President Trump condemns white supremacists as 'criminals and thugs'

President Trump condemns white supremacists after violence in Charlottesville

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists as "criminals and thugs," in a news conference Monday.

He added that "racism is evil."

One woman was killed Saturday when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters who'd gathered to oppose a rally by white nationalists and others who oppose a plan to remove from a Charlottesville park a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed ordered all flags to be flown at half-staff across the city of Atlanta in honor of the victim.

The president's remarks come after a weekend full of criticism that he wouldn't denounce those hate groups by name.

Channel 2’s Justin Gray was in Washington for the president’s unscheduled statement Monday.

The statement was one many people wanted to hear 48 hours ago. Trump started the event by talking about his economic record, and not what happened in Charlottesville.

Trump said he returned to Washington from his working vacation at his New Jersey golf club not because of the violent attacks by white supremacists over the weekend, but for meetings with economic advisors.

“Unemployment is at a 16-year low,” Trump said.

<p>President Trump speaking about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.&nbsp;</p>

President Trump speaking about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

But the first thing on his agenda at the White House was a meeting about the racist violence in Charlottesville with the FBI director and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred bigotry and violence,” Trump told reporters.

Trump had been criticized all weekend for not directly calling out white supremacists.

Trump said Saturday he condemned “violence on many sides.”

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner was among those on both sides of the aisle saying that wasn't good enough.

At the White House on Monday, Trump did just that.

“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists,” Trump said.

Trump pledged that anyone who acted criminally will be held accountable. The Justice Department is launching a civil rights investigation into the deadly car attack.

The suspect

James Alex Fields Jr. s charged in the death of Heyer, who died after a car that police say Fields was driving slammed into a crowd of people protesting the nationalist rally Saturday. Fields was arrested shortly afterward and taken into custody.

Police said Fields drove his silver Dodge Challenger through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing Heyer and wounding 19 other people. A Virginia State Police helicopter deployed in a large-scale police response to the violence then crashed into the woods outside of town and both troopers on board died.

<p>James Fields is accused of driving a car into a crowd and killing one person.</p>

James Fields is accused of driving a car into a crowd and killing one person.

Fields had been photographed hours earlier with a shield bearing the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that took part in the "take America back" campaign to protest the removal of a Confederate statue. The group on Sunday denied any association with the suspect.

Fields was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler, and had been singled out by school officials in the 9th grade for his "deeply held, radical" convictions on race, a former high school teacher said Sunday. Fields also confided that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was younger and had been prescribed an anti-psychotic medication, Derek Weimer said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The victim

The mother of the 32-year-old woman who died after a car rammed into a crowd that was marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday said her daughter was always "fierce about defending her beliefs," and even as a child questioned conventional wisdom.

"Heather was a very passionate person," Susan Bro, the mother of victim Heather Heyer, told ABC News. "She had very strong beliefs, and even as a small child she was fierce about defending her beliefs."

<p>Heather Heyer</p>

Heather Heyer

"She didn’t do it in a way so much of arguing, as a way so much of saying, 'Tell me why? Tell me why I can't do this,' or, 'Tell me why you believe that.'" Bro said of Heyer, who worked as a paralegal.

"At times as a small child that would be maddening, but I encouraged that in her, to be a strong independent person and to stand up for what she believed in," said the mother. "She always believed in treating people fairly."

Heyer's stepfather, Kim Bro, echoed the young woman's mother.

"She was believing in what she was doing," he said.

Information from ABC News and the Associated Press was used in this report.