Zeldin in Step With Trump on Violence Blame

First District congressman finds fault with ‘multiple groups and multiple sides’ in Virginia mayhem

Representative Lee Zeldin of New York’s First Congressional District has echoed President Donald Trump’s assertion that several groups were responsible for the violence on Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., in which one woman was killed and 19 others seriously injured when a car was intentionally rammed into a crowd.

Unite the Right, a rally by some 500 people categorized as “alt-right” activists, many bearing Confederate and Nazi banners, was organized to protest the planned removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War.

RELATED: East Hampton Task Force Issues Charlottesville Statement

On Friday night, the group, bearing torches, marched in the city, sometimes chanting slogans including “blood and soil,” popularized in the 1930s by the Nazi Party in Germany. Skirmishes grew between the marchers and counter-protesters on Saturday, with anti-Semitic signs like “Jews are satan’s children” seen and shouts of “Jew” heard whenever the name of Charlottesville’s Mayor, Michael Signer, was mentioned.

 In Mr. Trump’s initial remarks on the confrontation that afternoon, he made no mention of white supremacists and said “many sides” were responsible for the violence. On his Facebook page, Mr. Zeldin, a Republican who was elected in 2014, wrote:

 “We are still learning the facts of what happened today in Charlottesville and there is evidence that the violence came from multiple groups and multiple sides and really no one can be defended who traveled to this beautiful, historic city for the sole purpose of causing physical harm to others. . . . For the protesters with pure, good, genuine, and peaceful purposes, I think it is very important you were brave enough to be there to lend your voice. For any of the protesters on either side with extremist views and violent purposes, you are 100-percent completely in the wrong.”

Asked to clarify and define the groups and sides to which Mr. Zeldin referred, Jennifer DiSiena, Mr. Zeldin’s communications director, said in an email that “while both sides are of course certainly not equals, violent acts were being committed from both sides of the protest, not just one side.” Ms. DiSiena cited statements posted on Twitter, including a tweet by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, a New York Times reporter, which said, “The hard left seemed as hate-filled as alt-right. I saw club-wielding ‘antifa’ [anti-fascists] beating white nationalists being led out of the park.” On Sunday, Ms. Stolberg amended her tweet. “Rethinking this. Should have said violent, not hate-filled. They were standing up to hate.”

Ms. DiSiena also cited another reporter’s tweet stating that counter-protesters were using pepper spray, and a report that Jason Kessler, an organizer of the white activists’ rally, had been chased and tackled by “violent protesters.”

On Monday, facing growing criticism for apparently drawing a moral equivalency between the white supremacists and counter-protesters, Mr. Trump condemned the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis. He reverted to his original stance, however, in a combative exchange with reporters on Tuesday, asserting that “there is blame on both sides” and “not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me.”

On Monday, Perry Gershon, an East Hampton resident who would like the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin next year, wrote on his Facebook page, “At least a White House spokesman has finally condemned white supremacists for the tragedy in Charlottesville — 36 hours later. Lee Zeldin is still drawing a moral equivalence between the two ‘extremes.’ Shame on him.”

On Tuesday during an East Hampton Town Board meeting, Supervisor Larry Cantwell commented on the violence in Charlottesville,  saying, “The hate and violence that occurred in Virginia must be denounced and it must be condemned by all of us on every level in every community throughout the country. White supremacists, Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan and the hate and violence they represent are anti-American and represent a plague on our democracy. We are very proud of this country, but we, all of us, must and should stand against what these groups represent.”

 Speaking on behalf of the board, he continued. “Even though it’s on a national-level issue, I think all of us have to stand up and denounce what happened there and what it represents. And we really have to stop the hate and violence in this country. I think it starts with all of us speaking out against the hate and violence, and all of those who participate in it.”

With reporting by Joanne Pilgrim