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Trump’s ‘John Wayne’ presidency struggles with tragedy

President Donald Trump has mastered the art of the swaggering politician, but when tragedy strikes, he has struggled to find his footing.

By projecting the persona of a chin-out American leader eager to punch first and deal with the consequences later, Trump is missing the softer touch that past presidents have effectively used to bring the country together in times of crisis.

The same cycle played out again amid a weekend of violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump stated Saturday that “many sides” were to blame for the protests that rocked the college town, and he took to the familiar confines of Twitter to offer his condolences to the families of three people killed over the weekend. “So sad!” the president wrote at the end of one of his weekend social media posts, where he also wished “best regards to all those injured.”

But it wasn’t until Monday — some 48 hours after the deadly events — that Trump made a bid to assume the role of “empathizer-in-chief,” reading out publicly the names of those who had died while directly condemning the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Trump’s initial wavering was seen by critics as a political nod to a base of supporters who helped lift the Republican last November to the White House. It also reflected something seen throughout Trump’s presidency: His natural instinct has been to respond with force to terrible events, saving the compassion for his surrogates or private interactions.

“He’s missing an empathy gene. It’s just not natural to him,” said former George W. Bush White House speechwriter Peter Wehner. “When people who don’t have empathy try to fake it, it doesn’t come across very well.”

Trump’s difficulty in dealing with national tragedies — particularly those that are racially charged — is not new. He was uncharacteristically silent in the immediate aftermath of the February killing of an Indian immigrant in Kansas that was investigated as a hate crime, as well as the fatal stabbing in May of two men defending a Muslim woman riding a commuter train in Portland, Oregon.

As a presidential candidate, Trump’s responses to tragedies struck many as tone deaf. He tweeted “appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” after a gunman killed 49 people in June 2016 at a gay Orlando nightclub in an ISIS-inspired attack. Trump was also quick to label an explosion last September in New York City, in which no one was harmed, as terrorism before authorities had confirmed the nature of the attack.

White House aides note Trump has a compassionate side that may not come across in public but is routinely on display for those who know him well. They cite his decision in April to launch 59 cruise missiles in Syria after seeing photos of children dying after President Bashar Assad’s government attacked them with chemical weapons, as well as his invitation to the widow of a Navy SEAL killed in Yemen to attend his first speech to a joint session of Congress. Trump also spent two hours this spring visiting wounded soldiers at a suburban Washington military hospital, signing baseballs, taking pictures and talking with the service members about their favorite restaurants.

“He goes out of his way to help people in the moments you least expect,” said White House adviser Hope Hicks. “He doesn’t often publicize these moments, which makes them all the more genuine.”

Trump also received plaudits from Democrats and Republicans alike for the temperament he displayed in June after a gunman opened fire on GOP members of Congress during a morning baseball practice. Speaking in the Diplomatic Room at the White House hours after that attack, which sent House Majority Whip Steve Scalise to the hospital in critical condition, Trump made a plea for national unity.

Still, by most accounts, Trump has fallen far short of modern presidents who have taken on the role of grief-counselor-in-chief in the wake of national tragedies.

“He’s been dismal at unifying the country,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “In the wake of Charlottesville, people were waiting with bated breath that he might have a Reagan or Obama moment and pull us together, but instead he seemed to go back into self-promotion of his economy and a limp — at best — statement about the deaths and refusing to talk about white supremacy and neo-Nazism.”

Brinkley, like several others from both sides of the political aisle, noted the unusual circumstances of Trump initially declining to verbally confront the white supremacists behind Saturday’s violence in Virginia given the president’s apparent glee in targeting everyone from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cable news host Mika Brzezinski.

By most accounts, Trump’s approach to tragedy differs greatly from the chief executives before him. National events such as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats and John F. Kennedy’s news conferences have evolved in recent decades to more intimate and emotional moments between the president and the people — from Ronald Reagan’s Oval Office speech after the Challenger disaster to Bill Clinton’s remarks in Oklahoma City after a domestic terrorist killed 169 people in a bombing. George W. Bush helped unify the country in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, most famously with his address using a bullhorn at the site of the World Trade Center.

For Barack Obama, the role in which he repeatedly found himself cast during his presidency coincided with a slew of mass shootings, from a Colorado movie theater to a Connecticut elementary school to a grocery store in Arizona. The country’s first African-American president became increasingly emotional in his post-shooting speeches — he sang “Amazing Grace” in June 2015 during a eulogy in Charleston, South Carolina — and was clearly beleaguered by the weight of the tragedies and his inability to use the presidency to force major policy changes on gun control.

“This is kind of more of a John Wayne presidency,” Republican consultant Alex Castellanos said of the Trump White House. “Donald Trump will be able to stand on a pile of rubble like George W. Bush did and make sure our adversaries hear us. He won’t be the president who feels our pain.”

Trump, Castellanos added, is leading a “guy’s presidency.”

“And I think that’s part of why at times you see him reluctant to reveal his more feminine, nourishing, care-giving side, because he doesn’t have one. He was elected to bring order to a world that’s spinning out of control. Voters chose strength. Not compassion.”

Democrats see Trump’s handling of recent tragedies as missed opportunities — a selfish political calculation to speak to his base rather than respond in a way that can bring the country together.

“I think Trump’s severe narcissism has prevented him from developing any sense of empathy, which is a requirement for any good leader, and particularly a president,” said former Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau.

“When it takes the president of the United States three days to condemn racism and the KKK, it’s not unreasonable to wonder exactly how sincere he’s being,” added David Litt, another former Obama White House speechwriter.

For Trump loyalists, the outcry over Trump’s slow response to Charlottesville represented the latest unfair treatment of the president.

“First of all, I think the media standard for him is much higher than it was for Obama,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally. “The standard for Trump is much, much higher and much more hostile.”

While Gingrich defended Trump’s original response on Saturday, he also said he expected more. On Monday, Trump intimated that his previous statements had qualified as a firm denunciation of Nazis and white supremacists. Gingrich said he saw it that way, too, noting the president’s inaugural address had included a denunciation of racism.

“I think he probably thinks he’s clearer than his critics think he is,” Gingrich said.

But some of Trump’s most steadfast defenders say they are still bewildered by his response. The president’s remarks have been “terrible,” said Ari Fleischer, the former George W. Bush White House press secretary who often defends Trump on Twitter.

“It reinforces the worst criticisms about the president that many of his opponents made during the campaign,” he said. “It was a letdown. It was just a letdown.”

Fleischer said he understood Trump’s desire to point out that some left-wing movements have also been involved in violence, but he argued that it was entirely inappropriate to deliver the “many sides” phrase without first condemning Nazis and the KKK.

While Monday’s statement stanched the bleeding, Fleischer said the damage had already been done.

“He’ll never make up the ground he lost by waiting for two days, but at least he didn’t try to box his way out of this corner,” he said. “I mean, he threw in the flag.”

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Sessions embraces federal role in probing Charlottesville violence

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is vowing an aggressive federal investigation into the deadly violence in Charlottesville over the weekend, but as he all but promised a federal prosecution, he also broke with his long-standing position that civil rights and hate crimes cases are generally best left to local authorities.

In interviews Monday, Sessions signaled that the federal government would not hesitate to bring charges against the driver of the car that drove wildly into a crowd of protesters in the Virginia town, killing one woman and injuring more than a dozen other people.

“You can be sure that we will charge and advance the investigation towards the most serious charges that can be brought because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America,” Sessions told ABC on Monday, before he briefed President Donald Trump on the Charlottesville investigation.

But in the past, Sessions has seemed skeptical about the federal role in such prosecutions.

At his confirmation hearing in January, he said he had opposed the 2009 Matthew Shepherd James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention law as a Republican senator from Alabama because he thought hate crimes against gays and lesbians were already policed effectively in state court. He did promise that he would enforce the law as attorney general, despite opposing it.

In February, he told reporters it was “almost disrespectful” for the federal government to prosecute excessive force by local law enforcement agencies because “sometimes local police departments really step up and do a great job.”

“This is a big concern everyone has had about Jeff Sessions as attorney general: He has a history, and he has consistently been an opponent of federal involvement in these kinds of matters,” said former Justice Department official Bill Yeomans, now with the nonprofit Alliance for Justice. “That’s been a traditional argument Southerners in particular have used about civil rights that involves going after Washington and outside agitators….I hope that the attorney general’s views have evolved. I think this will be an important test for him.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said Sessions was speaking Monday about the volume of federal resources being brought to bear, not whether federal charges will ultimately be filed. “We’re just not there yet. We’re very early on,” she said.

Another DOJ official, who asked not to be named, said Sessions never opposed sharing information and resources with local officials, as the department is doing in Charlottesville.

Still, Sessions’ comments in a series of television interviews Monday omitted any discussion of distinctions between local and federal roles. Instead, the Justice Department sounded like it was coming to the aid of those injured in Charlottesville — and to the rescue of the president, whose initial reaction to the violence was widely panned as too mild.

“The president has directed us to get after it,” Sessions said on CBS. “We’re coming after these people. It will not be tolerated….There’s no bigger case right now that we’re working on.”

“We’re going to protect the right to assemble and march, and we’re going to prosecute anybody to the fullest extent of the law that violates their ability to do so,” the attorney general added on NBC. “You can be sure of that.”

Civil rights advocates said they saw a disconnect between those comments and Sessions’ long-held views.

“It is curious the inconsistency in Attorney General Sessions’ approach to these issues,” said Kristen Clark of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Sometimes he very much wants to invoke states’ rights and deferring to local and state authorities and, in the next breath, he is quick to wield the heavy hand of the federal government.”

Sessions’ vows of a strong federal response to the Charlottesville violence came amid an effort on his part to reassure civil rights activists and the members of the Justice Department’s own staff that he considers the issue a priority. In June, following complaints that the Trump administration was doing too little to respond to a surge in hate-motivated attacks, the attorney general spoke at a hate crimes summit in Washington.

“I know the responsibility that we have, and we have a responsibility to protect people’s freedom, their religious rights, their integrity, their ability to express themselves, to push back against violence and hate crimes that occur in our country,” Sessions told an audience consisting largely of federal prosecutors. “So, we’re going to do that, I will assure you, in every way.”

Even in that speech, though, Sessions was careful to distinguish between what he saw as state and federal roles. He said the Justice Department was aiding state and local investigators in probing a spate of murders of transgender people and would “determine whether federal action would be appropriate.”

In that address, the attorney general noted that his willingness to enforce hate crimes laws had come up during his confirmation hearings. Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he opposed expanding federal hate crimes laws in 2009 because there was no obvious need for federal involvement. And he indicated that was still his position.

“My view is and was a concern that it appeared that these cases were being prosecuted effectively in state courts, where they would normally be expected to be prosecuted,” the then-nominee said. “The question simply was: do we have a problem that requires an expansion of federal law into an area that the federal government has not been historically involved.”

Sessions then offered an unequivocal promise to enforce the hate crimes laws currently on the books. “The law has been passed. The Congress has spoken. You can be sure I will enforce it,” he said.

Still, civil rights advocates say, enforcing such laws at the federal level always involves discretion.

“There are factors that are really important for when the federal government is going to weigh in,” said former Justice Department civil rights chief Vanita Gupta, now with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “When a crime is so heinous that it resonates at the national level, that is an instance where the Justice Department may get involved…Given the national resonance of what happened in Charlottesville, I think it would have been an abdication of the Justice Department’s responsibility not to open an investigation in this circumstance.”

Local prosecutors in Virginia have already filed charges of second-degree murder, malicious wounding and leaving the scene of an accident after death against James Alex Fields, who is accused of deliberately driving into a crowd of people who had been protesting the white supremacist gathering.

However, some civil rights activists believe if Sessions approves federal charges against Fields, it would send a powerful signal that the violence in Charlottesville was of national significance.

“A federal hate crimes charge is very difference than a local criminal offense,” Clarke said. “Hate crimes are particularly threatening to our democracy, and prosecution of this matter on the federal level would sent a strong message to the alt-right forces and the white supremacist movement afoot in our country that violence on their part will not be tolerated.”

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White Nationalists Try on an Unfamiliar Role: Police Victims

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Organizers of Saturday’s deadly white nationalist rally say they are planning to return to Charlottesville for a future rally and to file lawsuits against city and state authorities for allegedly failing to protect their gathering.

But first, they must cope with a psychic shock: feeling betrayed by government authorities they believed would always protect them. Before this weekend’s events, the alt-right had been a bastion of pro-police sentiment – especially when it came to police shootings of unarmed black victims and clashes with the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, the alt-right’s leaders are grappling with the realities of being identifiable members of an unpopular minority group in public.

“I have never felt like the government or police were against me,” said white nationalist leader Richard Spencer at a small press conference inside his home in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday afternoon. “There has never been a situation in my life when I’ve felt this way.”

Jason Kessler, the Charlottesville rally’s organizer, was also reeling. “This has changed everything,” he said. “I thought that the police would uphold constitutional law no matter what.”

Kessler claimed the city’s police failed to follow through on plans for protecting the rally that they had discussed with him. He also said that during planning for the rally, one police captain divulged to him that authorities were communicating about the event using their personal emails to avoid Freedom of Information Act requests.

Following Saturday’s violence, Kessler attempted to hold a press conference on Sunday in front of Charlottesville’s city hall but was foiled by anti-racism demonstrators, some of whom physically attacked him. Kessler criticized Virginia state troopers — who intervened after a scuffle broke out — for not taking more proactive steps to protect him.

“Even the lefties are astonished that the police apparently must’ve been ordered to just stand aside,” said white nationalist Jared Taylor, who has been called “the intellectual godfather of the alt-right” and monitored the weekend’s events from afar. “There wasn’t even a single arrest when Jason Kessler was assaulted. What were the police doing?”

Another alt-right activist who participated in the rally, Pax Dickinson, expressed similar frustration. “I blame the rank-and-file cops for being cowards who obey unlawful orders,” said Dickinson, a former CTO of Business Insider and former business partner of the Pro-Trump internet troll Charles Johnson. “But the orders came from higher up.”

Dickinson, whose Twitter account was suspended on Monday, said he believes attendees of the pro-white rally were victims of a government “conspiracy to deny civil rights.”

“There wasn’t a conspiracy,” responded a spokeswoman for the Charlottesville Police Department, Miriam Dickler.

Dickler said that under Virginia law, use of a personal email would not shield communications from FOIA requests and that it was in fact rally attendees who failed to follow the security plan. “Police did coordinate with Mr. Kessler,” she said. “They had coordinated for his folk to come in from the back of the park. That did not happen. That’s really all I can say about that.”

Kessler said that alt-right organizers had received legal advice from lawyers outside of Virginia and were searching for a lawyer in-state to help them bring suit against authorities for their handling of the weekend’s events. The Virginia State Police did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite the feelings of betrayal, it does not appear that the experience has caused white nationalists to fundamentally reevaluate their worldviews. Spencer repeatedly dodged questions about whether his weekend experience has made him more sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement and members of minority groups who have claimed unfair treatment at the hands of police. Instead, he attacked the strawman notion that there is a nationwide police conspiracy to murder black people. But, he added, “I did have much more faith in the police in general before this weekend.”

After two abortive attempts to hold the event at hotels in downtown Washington, Spencer moved the press conference to his book-strewn, two-story apartment, where a smashed hard-boiled egg sat in a pot of water on the stove. There, he also expressed his disappointment with Fox News. Calling up a screenshot from the network on the flat-screen television on the wall of his living room, Spencer faulted Fox for running stock footage of an unrelated Ku Klux Klan gathering while discussing Saturday’s rally, which he felt unfairly mischaracterized the alt-right.

Though Saturday’s rally was replete with Confederate paraphernalia and Confederate sympathies run high in the alt-right, Spencer also struck a notably Unionist line in condemning alleged city and state efforts to sabotage the rally even after a federal judge ordered Charlottesville to grant Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally a permit to assemble. “That is technically speaking a rebellion against the federal government, which obviously has authority over the Commonwealth of Virginia,” he said.

Spencer said that he “100 percent” plans to hold another rally in Charlottesville, to show that his movement will not be silenced, though he did not announce a date. He had been scheduled to speak at Texas A&M University on September 11, but administrators cancelled the event. Spencer might, however, be speaking at the University of Florida on September 12, according to the school’s president.

Spencer said he was unimpressed by Trump’s Monday statement condemning Nazis and the KKK, calling it “nonsense” and “silliness.” He said he did not believe Trump — who explicitly condemned white supremacy only after days of criticism for his failure to do so — was making the statement sincerely and said he does not believe the president had condemned his movement, pointing out that he did not use the term “white nationalists.” White House advisers Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller may be “fellow travelers” of his movement, he said, even though most other members of the Trump administration, like U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were not.

Spencer declined to condemn James Fields Jr. — the Ohio man who crashed his car into a crowd of protesters, killing anti-racism demonstrator Heather Heyer — saying that he will wait for more information and claiming to have seen video suggesting the young man may have been fleeing violent attacks from anti-fascist or “Antifa” demonstrators.

Spencer did, however, condemn his critics on the right, many of whom lacerated the president for his initial statement about the events in Charlottesville. “The conservatives are a bunch of idiots,” he said. “I don’t care about them anymore.” Spencer said he believes conservatives resent him because he is more “intelligent” and “attractive” than they are.

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An American Businesswoman Pushing Down Barriers: Susan McGalla

In a field dominated by men, Susan McGalla has broken through barriers to become a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur. Susan began by earning her degree from Mount Union College where she currently sits on the Board of Advisors. Starting in 1986 she climbed her way through various management and marketing opportunities, and would eventually go on to sit on the Board of Trustees for the University of Pittsburg, become Director of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, as well as sit on the board of Magee Women’s Hospital Research Institute and Foundation and a publicly traded commercial real estate service corporation called HFF, Inc.

At the youthful age of only 41, Susan had recently been promoted to chief merchandising officer and president of the American Eagle Outfitters brand. Since that time, she left American Eagle and began effectively consulting privately for companies in the retail and financial sectors. Susan continued this for two years (2009-2011) where she was then hired as the CEO of a company for a short time and also gave birth to a child. Following this, McGalla launched her own company, P3 Executive Consulting. Additionally, the Pittsburg Steelers were proud to call her Vice President of Business Strategy and Creative Development.

A point that undoubtedly endears her to many women carrying on the struggle for gender equality is that McGalla has never “played the woman card” as she states. She was once paraphrased in the media as expressing that she speaks her ideas with confidence and expects to be judged on those and their merit as opposed to her gender.

Growing up with a football coach as a father has surely come in handy from time to time, as it has allowed her to join in when a mainly male filled room of executives begins talking sports. Susan can seamlessly add to the conversation just as easily as she would if it had been based on fashion. Learning the game from a young age, playing it actively with her two brothers, and being treated as gender equal in her own family certainly must have come in handy when earning the esteemed job she still holds with the Steelers.

Susan McGalla has experienced a varied and fruitful career, is one of few CEOs who was both female and only attained the educational distinction of a bachelor’s degree. This is a woman who clearly works hard to push through the typical barriers of American executive expectations. Now in her early 50’s, it seems Susan McGalla should continue to be one to watch when keeping the pulse of successful American businesswomen.

The Donald Trump and Michael Flynn of the Cold War

Michael Flynn was back in the headlines earlier this month, as special counsel Robert Mueller asked the White House for any documents on the former national security adviser. Flynn, who had to step down from his position in the wake of revelations that he had discussed lifting U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador, has been a continued source of scandal for the Trump administration. And yet, reports claim that President Donald Trump has been pining for his former adviser. The two, after all, are kindred spirits, who bonded over “lock her up” chants and the supposed threat posed by Islam and attacks on “establishment” leaders in both parties for failing to understand what they consider the true dangers to the homeland.

Though the flamboyant businessman and the former general may seem like an unlikely pairing, their alliance draws on the style, ideas and worldviews of another partnership between a businessman-turned-politico with a flair for sales and conspiracy theories and a hard-line general who spied threats under every rock—one that took place decades ago.

John Birch Society founder Robert H.W. Welch Jr. and Army General Edwin A. Walker were two of the most notorious anticommunists of the Cold War era. Both Welch and Walker, like Trump and Flynn, embraced conspiracy theories that anti-American forces had infiltrated the highest levels of government and media. Their informal alliance rested on a shared view that corrupt elites had rendered the country defenseless. And their association raised liberal fears that a dictator would seize control of the White House. In fact, the New Republic published a series of fictional news reports in 1961 imagining Walker leading a military coup and installing a military junta in the White House. In the narrative, Walker, the temporary president, appoints Welch as head of a Subversive Activities Control Board and taps a rogue’s gallery of right-wing businessmen, media moguls and arch-segregationists to other key posts.

Look, and you’ll see in Welch and Walker some of the strains that reappear in Trumpism today.

***

Welch, a blue-eyed, balding candy manufacturer, became America’s most visible political extremist in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Born on a farm in North Carolina in 1899, Welch graduated from the University of North Carolina at 16 and attended Harvard Law School before dropping out to launch a fudge-making company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When Welch was mired in debt during the Great Depression, his company folded, and he joined his brother’s already established candy-making business, the James O. Welch Company, as a sales manager. Welch spent decades selling Pom-poms and helping to turn the company into a multimillion-dollar operation. His first book, The Road to Salesmanship, published in 1941, offered business primers on the art of the sale.

While the marketing skills Welch honed early in life would help bring him to national political prominence, his ideological awakening didn’t come until the postwar years. During the early Cold War, the businessman began to see an American system that had lost touch with its founding principles. In his view, the rising power of the welfare state was destroying the individualist ethic that had once made the United States a beacon of freedom. Caught up in the anti-communist tide washing over postwar politics, Welch used his status as a successful candy manufacturer to give talks about the Red threat in public. “We are throwing away [the country we had] for a phony ‘security’ and a creeping collectivism,” warned Welch in one speech. On visits to England in the late 1940s, Welch recoiled at the “state socialism” he saw there, and cautioned American audiences upon his return against “let[ting] ourselves be infected by such diseases … as socialism and communism and other ideological cancers” as Western Europeans had.

Welch’s wealth and public profile rose as his anticommunist fervor intensified. Politicians began to solicit his endorsement to boost their campaigns in Massachusetts. He delivered rousing talks to political audiences and recruited volunteers to aid his chosen candidates. In 1950, Welch even ran for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts as a Republican, his lone try for elective office. He was badly defeated, and he began to nurse the sort of grievances and aching sense of betrayal by “the establishment” that have infused Trump’s short-lived political career.

In Welch’s eyes, the progressive era was the culprit. President Woodrow Wilson’s agenda had put “this nation on its present road to totalitarianism,” he said. He fingered federal agencies, global financiers and elite-run international institutions such as the Council on Foreign Relations as “the insiders” that were conspiring to destroy the nation’s founding virtues of free enterprise and individual liberty. He saw the assault on the American way of life intensify in 1952, when the Republican establishment deprived Sen. Robert Taft of the 1952 presidential nomination and handed it to Dwight Eisenhower—“the dirtiest deal in American political history,” Welch called it. In 1954, when the Eisenhower administration and American liberals destroyed anti-communist firebrand Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Welch despaired. These moments ignited what D.J. Mulloy, in The World of the John Birch Society, called Welch’s “career in conspiracism.”

Serving on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers in the 1950s, Welch grew close to like-minded conservative business leaders, turned away from the candy business and became an author and advocate. In the early to mid-1950s, Welch helped forge a burgeoning world of conservative organizing. He marshaled his skills as a marketer and pamphleteer to burnish his image as an anti-communist visionary speaking impolite truths to America’s sleepwalking political establishment. His goal was to open people’s minds to the grave communist dangers that sought “the destruction of our own liberty,” as the New York Times characterized one of his early arguments. “That there are more communists and communist sympathizers in our government today than ever before seems to me almost a certainty,” Welch declared. As Jonathan Schoenwald reveals in A Time for Choosing: The Rise of Modern American Conservatism, Welch persuaded conservative publisher Henry Regnery to publish a 30,000-word letter he had penned as a short book, May God Forgive Us, in 1952, and then established a Welch Letter Mailing Committee that urged potential buyers to pick up his book and learn from its revelations. Welch’s marketing strategy, Schoenwald wrote, was “a stroke of political genius.”

In 1954, Welch published The Life of John Birch, in which he depicted the Baptist missionary who was killed by Chinese communist troops just days after the end of World War II as the first victim of the communist war on free people. William F. Buckley would ultimately distance the conservative cause from Welch’s most outlandish conspiracies, but in the mid-1950s the founder of National Review praised Welch as “the author of two of the finest pamphlets this country has read in a decade.” Welch fixed his ire on establishment politicians who, he charged, had intentionally assisted the communists in their quest to destroy American life from within.

In 1958, Welch was sending his friends another book-length manuscript, The Politician, promulgating his most incendiary charge yet: that Eisenhower was “a dedicated, conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy.” Welch justified his allegation by claiming his goal was simply to inform a “limited number of patriotic friends of mine what I personally believed about the present situation, why I believed it, and what I personally was trying to do about it as just one patriotic American who was greatly concerned.” In later self-defenses, Welch glowingly cited the 95 percent of well-informed, influential readers who “completely agree with … my … conclusions.”

That same year, just as The Politician was generating enthusiasm among some of Welch’s allies, Welch invited 11 sympathetic businessmen to a home in Indianapolis where over two days they listened raptly as he talked for roughly 13 hours about the domestic communist peril. By the time Welch was finished, he had established the John Birch Society, or JBS, to organize grass-roots anti-communists to educate the public and halt the spread of communism in the United States. Welch adopted a top-down, autocratic approach to the organization (“Democracy is merely a deceptive phrase, a weapon of demagoguery and a perennial fraud,” he said in justifying his iron grip). He drew on his salesman skills, concentrated decision-making power in his own hands and helped recruit an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 members. Many of them became devoted to direct political action and raising awareness in their communities about the communist dangers lurking within.

Welch’s Ike-is-Red bombshell exploded in the public conscience in the early 1960s. Numerous moderate and liberal politicians of both parties, as well as journalists, excoriated Welch’s charge as the ravings of a right-wing crackpot. Still, some anti-communists praised Welch’s revelatory book as the kind of truth-talk desperately needed in order to win the Cold War. By 1961, Welch’s thesis, and the John Birch Society’s growing visibility, made him and his members the leading national symbol of right-wing extremism in the eyes of countless critics.

***

Just as Welch’s star burned hotter, a second scandal ensnared the JBS. The Overseas Weekly, a privately owned tabloid read by U.S. soldiers, reported that General Edwin Walker, who commanded the Army’s 24th Infantry Division based in West Germany, had established an education program designed to instruct his men in the teachings of the John Birch Society and the true nature of the communist enemy. Welch’s The Life of John Birch appeared on Walker’s recommended reading list. Further, the Weekly charged, Walker, a Silver Star-winning World War II and Korean War veteran, had identified Harry Truman and Eleanor Roosevelt as “definitely pink.” (Why he singled them out wasn’t clear.)

President John F. Kennedy asked the Army to investigate, and in June 1961, the Defense Department reassigned Walker and admonished him for having made “derogatory remarks of a serious nature about certain prominent Americans, the American Press, and TV industry and certain commentators, which linked the persons and institutions with Communism and Communist influence.” Rather than accept his reprimand, Walker resigned from the service. He wanted, he explained, “to be free from the power of little men who … punish loyal service,” and devoted himself to educating citizens about the scope of the communist threat.

Walker, at least initially, became a hero to countless conservatives. The way they saw it, he had short-circuited his distinguished military career to speak the truth about communist infiltration in key sectors of American government. One California congressman and JBS member defended Walker on the House floor: “Since when is it wrong to advance the cause of Americanism?”

Newsweek put Walker on its cover in 1961 with the headline, “Thunder on the RIGHT,” above a description that labeled Walker a “new crusader.” The former general quickly rose to Welch-like fame, as the two became seen as anti-communist heroes in the eyes of many conservatives—and right-wing fanatics in the eyes of liberals. The businessman and the general did not actually have a personal relationship, but they did feed off of each other and, together, inspired roiling debates about the direction of the conservative movement and how best to fight the communist threat.

Welch and Walker’s shared abhorrence of civil rights—their mutual conviction that communists were behind the drive to topple Jim Crow—provided another source of their alliance-building. After being arrested for leading pro-segregationist riots at the University of Mississippi in 1962, Walker was surrounded by rabid supporters upon his return home to Dallas. Their signs said “Welcome Walker” and “Walker for President, ’64”; one well-wisher hoisted a Confederate flag. A year later, Welch’s JBS published The Invasion of Mississippi, a pro-Walker, segregationist defense of the Walker-led riots at Ole Miss. When Walker embarked on a speaking tour in 1963 to rail against the communist conspiracy in the United States, Welch and his fellow JBS leaders urged their members to support Walker’s crusade. Members recruited citizens to attend Walker’s speeches and helped with logistics.

The general’s extremism deepened rapidly. In April 1962, after delivering rambling congressional testimony denouncing Secretary of State Dean Rusk as part of an “apparatus” devoted to selling out the United States, he punched a reporter in the face. In 1963, he denounced Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, as “little stupid brother Bobby.” Walker also conspiratorially implied that the government had tried to assassinate him, stating “they had to [arrest and] get rid of me because I knew too much about Mississippi.” (Seven months before John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, according to the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to assassinate Walker, firing a single shot into his Dallas home that came within about an inch of Walker’s head.)

Up until then, much of the conservative press and political class either supported Walker’s crusade or remained relatively silent about his controversial views. “In 1961-1962 GOP leaders decided that remaining silent [on the Walker case] was preferable to drumming out the extremists in an ugly public purge,” Schoenwald writes. But eventually, some of the most conservative leaders had to repudiate Walker’s descent into fanaticism: Even JBS quelled its support as the general became more unhinged.

As Walker’s anticommunist career fizzled, Welch’s remained an inflection point for conservative activists, Republican leaders and liberals. Some conservatives who were striving to become politically more viable, including Buckley and Ronald Reagan, denounced Welch’s theories as too extreme. But many of the same conservatives benefited from JBS members’ fundraising and organizing support. Some of the muscle that powered conservative politicians in the 1960s was supplied by Welch’s followers.

History, of course, is a flow rather than a pattern or a cycle. But if we are searching as we should be for some of the seeds that flowered into Trumpism, the short-lived radical ascendance and the shared flow of ideas that defined Welch’s and Walker’s informal partnership isn’t a bad place to start.

In Trump’s and Flynn’s shared conspiracies about the power of Muslim extremists and illegal immigrants within the United States; their jaundiced views that Republican and Democratic insiders have rigged the system to favor global and coastal elites; their faith that only fearless, politically incorrect leaders can restore American greatness; and in the sheer temerity of their racial provocations (“Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” Flynn tweeted; a judge overseeing a Trump University case was biased due to his “Mexican heritage,” Trump charged), we see that Trumpism owes an unwitting debt to the Welch-Walker alliance. The partnership anticipated the paranoia, distrust of elites and hard-right vision of an America unfettered by such nefarious values as liberal pluralism, the welfare state and the liberal internationalist order. It may have taken decades for them to achieve a small measure of political vindication, but in Trump’s ascendance, Welch and Walker’s radicalism—decades after the Cold War ended—has found some unlikely champions in the Oval Office.

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Republicans stand up to Trump over Charlottesville comments

Republican lawmakers this weekend took President Donald Trump to task over what they deemed a weak response to white supremacist groups and violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., the latest sign that Trump’s grip on the party may be weakening.

The outspoken group included past Trump antagonists such as Sens. Ben Sasse, Jeff Flake and Marco Rubio, but it also included prominent conservative voices who aren’t known as fierce critics of the administration, such as Sens. Orrin Hatch and Cory Gardner.

The Republicans joined civil rights leaders and Democrats who reacted angrily when Trump said Saturday he condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides.” His repetition of “many sides” struck critics as seeming to equate the white supremacist groups who organized the rally with counter-protesters, though the White House later sought to recast his statement to be more critical of hate groups.

One woman was killed and more injured Saturday when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters. Police later charged a man who had been photographed holding a symbol of one of the groups that organized the Charlottesville event, the Associated Press reported.

“This isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame,” Gardner, a Coloradoan who is considered a rising star in the party, said on CNN Sunday.

“This president has done an incredible job of naming terrorism around the globe as evil,” Gardner continued. “He has said and called it out time and time again. And this president needs to do exactly that today.”

“We should call evil by its name,” Hatch, the Utah Republican, wrote on Twitter Saturday.

The rift over Trump’s response to the Charlottesville violence was just the latest example of members of his party starting to carefully take on a president whose words and actions many chose to overlook after his surprise 2016 victory. Those schisms — including criticism of his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his recent public berating of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — could make it harder for the White House to work with its counterparts on a slew of policy priorities this fall.

The critical tweets and television interviews do not mean Republicans are turning on the president just yet. And Republicans have criticized Trump before. After the release of the “Access Hollywood” video in which Trump boasted about grabbing women’s genitals without their consent, many lawmakers said they could no longer support him; Gardner said he would not vote for him. Still, Republicans worked with Trump anyway after he took the White House.

“The Republican politicians still fear the Trump base in their own districts and states,” said Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville. “When he goes down to where Nixon and Truman were, in the mid to low 20s in the polls, then they will start waving bye-bye to him.”

But the reactions to Trump’s recent actions have evolved from earlier in the administration. For example, after Trump in May fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, Republicans on Capitol Hill tried to avoid reporters’ questions rather go on the record criticizing his decision.

By midday Sunday, the White House released a statement that attempted to clarify the president’s earlier remarks on Charlottesville, though the president himself has not spoken again.

“The President said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred. Of course that includes white supremacists, KKK Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together,” an unnamed White House spokesman said in a statement.

The president condemned the violence “and didn’t dignify the names of these groups of people, but rather addressed the fundamental issue,” White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert told CNN.

That was after waves of criticism, including from Trump’s 2016 campaign rivals such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who urged the Department of Justice to investigate the events in Charlottesville, which it promised to do late Saturday evening. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who also ran for president in 2016 and whose daughter works in the West Wing, and 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney also denounced racial prejudice.

Fissures between Republicans and Trump have been showing up with greater regularity, as the president faces a low approval rating and no major legislative accomplishments.

GOP lawmakers chafed when Trump publicly admonished Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign. Sessions said it was necessary given his role in Trump’s presidential campaign, but Trump said he would have picked a different attorney general if he’d known the recusal was coming.

Republican lawmakers and a bevy of conservative groups, from law enforcement advocacy organizations to Tea Party advocates to the Family Research Council, rushed to the defense of the former senator.

More recently, Trump broke standard party protocol by publicly criticizing McConnell for failing to pass legislation eliminating the 2010 Obamacare law. Trump even suggested that McConnell should step down from his leadership post — something the president has no control over — if McConnell does not deliver the votes to pass tax reform or an infrastructure package.

The party had already fractured over its attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare. Trump offered little support or cover for both House and Senate lawmakers to take what many deemed tough votes. The effort died in the Senate due to three “no” votes by Sens. John McCain, Susan Collins, and Lisa Murkowski over concerns about the secretive process during which the health care bill was written and the cuts it would make to Medicaid.

When lawmakers return from vacation in September, they will face a bevy of thorny challenges — raising the nation’s debt ceiling, approving a budget for the federal government, and tackling tricky policies like tax reform. While it’s premature to assume the Republican rifts will sink any of those efforts, the insistent paper cuts for the fledgling administration could imperil them — and further erode Trump’s diminished political base.

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Trump aides predicting 'brutal' September

Inside President Donald Trump’s White House, no one seems to be looking forward to September.

Senior officials have described the coming month as “brutal,” “bad” or “really tough” because of the confluence of complicated issues — but they also say it’s pivotal to getting the presidency back on course.

Aides hope to have a better blueprint for how the president wants to proceed on a series of thorny issues — the nation’s debt ceiling, the 2018 federal budget, tax reform, infrastructure spending and perhaps another stab at repealing Obamacare — after a series of meetings in New York this week.

Their goal is to partially temper Trump’s expectations, hammer out some compromises and get a competing band of aides on the same page. The month has taken on outsize importance among some top aides and outside advisers, who view it as key to getting the presidency on a better track.

“The stakes are very high in September,” said Jenny Beth Martin, who leads the Tea Party Patriots, a conservative grass-roots group. “There is a lot to do in a very short period of time.”

Trump, who is impatient, wants it all done immediately, said people close to the president — and he has ratcheted up pressure on aides in recent weeks, even though he doesn’t always engage with the substance of issues.

What makes the month harder is that many of the fights are in Congress, where the president and his team have little control.

“The president has made clear his commitment to getting health care, tax reform and infrastructure passed in Congress. There shouldn’t have to be a choice,” said Kelly Love, a White House spokeswoman.

Trump’s aides have prepared lengthy memos and presentations on the legislative calendar for Trump in New York and Washington next week to see how he wants to handle the policy debates.

The fights come as White House aides expect investigations into Russian collusion to heat up and amid a newly rocky relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell following a series of critical tweets and comments from Trump during his Bedminster, New Jersey, retreat last week. Other critical decisions are approaching, such as finalizing a strategy for Afghanistan and choosing whether to suspend the payment of Obamacare subsidies that keep insurance markets functioning smoothly.

And the president is increasingly venting about the apparent inability of the Republican Congress to agree on legislation, especially the Senate’s high-profile failure to agree on legislation repealing Obamacare. He has told others he will distance himself from any failures, even as some of his aides push him to cultivate stronger relationships on Capitol Hill.

“The Republicans in Congress only seem to be efficient at one thing: coordinating hearings on Russia with the Democrats,” said Sam Nunberg, a longtime Trump aide who left him in 2015 but still talks to administration officials. “At least they can get that done.”

September also presents several fights about which Trump’s aides aren’t in agreement. Fault lines are already coming into view, even as Marc Short, the head of legislative affairs, is trying to get everyone on the same page ahead of the Trump Tower meetings, several administration officials said.

A successful September for many in the administration would include keeping the government open, passing a budget without too much of a showdown, securing some money for the long-promised border wall and beginning talks on tax reform, officials said, while continuing to work on the health care issue.

But other Trump aides have loftier expectations. For some, such as strategist Steve Bannon and his allies, securing money for the wall is a fight worth having. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney would like spending cuts as part of raising the debt ceiling, but it remains unclear how hard he would be willing to battle for them.

Short is pushing to handle many of the budget issues quickly and to try to move quickly to tax reform, a strategy supported by Gary Cohn, the president’s economic adviser, and Steven Mnuchin, his Treasury secretary. But advisers are still wrangling with the fine details of a tax plan. Bannon wants a higher tax on the wealthy, which could go nowhere, and while he previously wasn’t involved in health care, Bannon has recently inserted himself into that fight, administration officials said.

The top headaches for Trump’s White House are the Sept. 30 deadlines for raising the debt ceiling and funding the upcoming year’s budget. The White House also wants to push agenda items, like more border money and defense spending, while also trying to curb deficits. White House officials, including Bannon, Short and chief of staff John Kelly, have told others they expect those fights to be messy.

The outcome that some White House officials fear is a three-month budget extension, only postponing the fight until December. Internally, White House officials are still battling over spending levels in the budget, according to several administration officials. Pressure is likely to rise from the conservative House Freedom Caucus for spending cuts for a budget and the debt ceiling, creating another clash with moderates like the one that tanked health care reform.

Trump, aides said, is determined to get money for the wall and immigration measures — and he is likely to balk at any plan that doesn’t give him a win on a signature campaign issue.

Advisers are also deciding whether it makes sense to put considerable effort into reviving the health care fight immediately, as Trump wants to do, and whether to delay tax reform for a month or so while handling other issues — a move that would dismay important outside constituencies. “Tax reform isn’t going to come out as soon as we first wanted,” said one senior administration official with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

A number of senior officials would quietly prefer to leave health care alone after a bruising fight that climaxed in Trump’s public clashes with McConnell. While some White House officials have worked quietly with governors on securing support for a state-based block grant plan, and others have worked with the Freedom Caucus on a repeal-only vote, there is little sign of momentum, senior White House officials said.

Trump wants health care done quickly, even as many in the Senate would like to move on. The president, who is combative, doesn’t like to be seen compromising — and often focuses on an issue only after he has lost and received the public sting. “He thinks if we don’t get health care done, we’re losers,” said one adviser who speaks with him often.

On Friday, the House Freedom Caucus vowed to push a repeal-only bill, which quickly secured support from conservative groups like the Club for Growth. Martin, the head of Tea Party Patriots, said she delivered more than a million signatures to the White House calling for the repeal of Obamacare. A bill would likely fail in the Senate, though, and take valuable time from the White House, which needs legislative wins by the end of the year. The Club for Growth said it would score lawmakers on the vote, a move meant to threaten them.

“We hear about repealing Obamacare from the grass roots every day,” Martin said.

For many in Trump’s White House, tax reform is the greater priority. Short and other senior aides have met with senators and important outside constituencies, like the network of groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Tim Phillips, who leads Americans for Prosperity, one of the largest groups in the Koch network, said his donors are most focused on that, and outside groups say the administration has seemed far better prepared on tax reform than on health care.

“Our view is it’s all about tax reform,” said Scott Reed, chief strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Success would help turn the page on all the drama of the White House so far.”

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Charlottesville Reels After a White Supremacist Rally Turns Deadly

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Violence and division gripped this affluent college town for the third straight day on Sunday, where everyone was still processing the death of a 32-year-old protester and two police officers—and almost everyone was still angry, or frightened.

In the wake of Saturday’s deadly clashes between white nationalist protesters, counter-protesters and police, those remaining on the ground here pointed their fingers at a variety of culprits: white supremacists, anti-fascist “antifa” demonstrators, city officials, police and President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, self-branded “alt-light” figures around the country followed Trump’s pox-on-both-your-houses lead, offering explanations for the weekend’s bloodshed that minimized the role of white supremacy.

At 2 p.m. in Charlottesville, under the watch of police snipers stationed on a nearby rooftop, the organizer of Saturday’s white nationalist “Unite the Right” protest tried and failed to hold a press conference in front of city hall. But the organizer, freelance journalist Jason Kessler, was shouted down by a crowd of about 200 chanting, “Shame” and “Say her name,” a reference to the late Heather Heyer, the victim of Saturday’s alleged vehicular homicide at the hands of protest attendee James Alex Fields. Kessler — whose Twitter bio says he has written for the Daily Caller, a site founded by Fox News hosted Tucker Carlson, as well as internet troll Charles Johnson’s GotNews — made a show of checking his watch and fiddling with his smartphone as he waited for the crowd’s shouts to die down. When the shouting persisted, Kessler began speaking into the assembled microphones anyways, but his words were inaudible. Within minutes, two men had stepped through the ring of journalists encircling Kessler, and began shouting in his face. As journalists and the crowd pushed in closer, a scuffle broke out. Kessler escaped around the building’s corner and up the street, which was quickly sealed off by police in riot gear.

One of the two men who had approached Kessler stood in front of the police line chanting, “No airtime for Kessler,” and “No protection, no airtime.” The man, who sported a salt-and-pepper goatee and faded yellow polo shirt, declined to be interviewed. Others chanted, “Murderer” at Kessler, who had disappeared from view.

Erin Cook, 25, an employee of UVA’s childcare center, said she was already seeing “segregation” in the town in the wake of Saturday’s violence. “Everyone’s sticking to their own kind,” she said, adding that she has heard people talk of moving away from Charlottesville, for fear that that tensions here will only grow worse.

Cook said that her four-year-old daughter was “screaming uncontrollably” on Saturday, unable to make sense of chaos she was seeing unfold on television and hearing outside their nearby home. Cook, who is black, said she fears that her daughter will come to have a different understanding of the events than her white best friend, driving a racial wedge between them before they even reach grade school.

Cook said she has also heard from friends around the country over the course of the weekend. “A lot of them are saying, ‘I’m looking at white people differently’” she said. “It shouldn’t be like that.”

***

Nobody died on Sunday, thankfully —but the specter of Saturday’s violence hung over the city.

Following Kessler’s foiled press conference, organizers from the Revolutionary Communist Party addressed several dozen anti-racism protesters with bullhorns on the town’s brick-paved Main Street. Candice Maupin, 38, her injured left arm wrapped in a colorful plaster cast, rested an aluminum baseball bat on her shoulder. “I can’t fight with one arm so I need the bat,” she said. “We are going to protect ourselves by any means necessary.”

Patrick LaForte, 35, said he drove from South Carolina to attend Saturday’s rally and had been on his way home when he caught word of Kessler’s press conference and turned his car around. A burly white man with a red beard, LaForte said he and his three equally burly companions returned to the scene out of a desire to provide Kessler with physical protection, though the press conference had been shut down by the time they arrived.

LaForte said the violence directed at the white nationalist protesters violated their First Amendment rights, and he lamented growing divisions in American society.

“There’s not a common culture anymore,” said LaForte, a regular reader of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. “Now anybody, no matter how small or weird the group, can insulate themselves inside their own internet echo chambers.”

Yards away, the usual Sunday crowd dined al fresco on Main Street in the shade. Sandwich boards outside many of the upscale shops proclaimed support for love, tolerance and diversity. On the approach to Emancipation Park, the site of Saturday’s rally—and home to the object at the center of the explosion of racial tensions, a statue of General Robert E. Lee—a banner strung up over Market Street declared, “DIVERSITY makes us STRONGER,” along with a cross, a crescent, a star of David, a handicap symbol, a rainbow and a clenched fist.

At the park, a homeless man had returned to what locals said was his usual post on one of stone benches surrounding the Lee statue, whose planned removal was the stated occasion for the “Unite the Right” protest. On another bench sat Marie Stern, 48, with her husband. The couple had driven 60 miles from their home near Quantico on Sunday morning to demonstrate their opposition to racism and violence. Stern, who wore a shirt from the Women’s March on Washington, has had trouble sleeping since Trump’s election. “All of this, in our opinion, is related to him,” she said, citing the president’s failure to offer any robust denunciations of white supremacy. “It’s what he’s not saying.”

John Ratalsky, 61, sat on another bench next to a dog-eared Bible held together with masking tape and said he saw a parable in an unusual sight he had just come across: excrement on the ground in the tidy town of Charlottesville. “God is telling me that what happened yesterday is flies on shit,” he said, going on to condemn the protesters, the counter-protesters and the officials who permitted the assembly to go forward. “Next time, if they don’t give a permit to the shit, the flies won’t come.”

***

Outside of Charlottesville, the weekend’s events have also posed a dilemma for figures that have emerged from the pro-Trump internet fringe and occupy an ideological territory adjacent to the alt-right. Labeling themselves the “alt-light,” they’ve sought to distance themselves from crude displays of overt racism.

Yet rather than issue Sister Souljah-esque condemnations of the alt-right, several of those figures instead offered narratives for the weekend’s events that minimized the role of white supremacy.

“Identity politics is ugly no matter where it comes from, and it always leads to horrors,” said pro-Trump provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. “But the situation America now finds itself in is almost entirely a creation of the progressive left. Progressives nurture and feed the disgruntled white working class with their crusades against ‘straight white men’ and then cry foul when their chickens come home to roost.”

Gavin McInnes, the founder of the pro-Trump “Western chauvinist fraternal organization” the Proud Boys, blamed the city Charlottesville for its efforts to block the white nationalists from demonstrating against the removal of a statue of Lee from Emancipation Park. “This is a free country and the city fucked up by denying them a permit,” he said. “The blood is on their hands.”

McInnes, a co-founder of VICE Media who left the company years ago and declined to participate in Saturday’s event, said white supremacists deserved blame for Saturday’s mayhem but that ultimate responsibility lies elsewhere. “The left created these assholes,” he said.

Peter Duke, who has become a semi-official photographer of leaders of the alt-right and “alt-light,” focused on his theory that young people on both sides of standoffs like this weekend’s are alienated from reality and using political street conflicts to live out their fantasies. He described their activities as “LARPing” or live action role-playing, a hobby most commonly associated with people who act out Dungeons & Dragons-style fantasy games, dressed as wizards and knights. He also linked Saturday’s vehicular homicide to Grand Theft Auto, a popular video game in which players frequently mow down pedestrians with cars. “These people play video games and think if they dress up like their favorite characters, they are sending some kind of message,” he said. “They are virtue-signaling through a costume.”

Meanwhile, white nationalist figurehead Richard Spencer, who championed Saturday’s rally and has announced a press conference on Monday in Washington to address the weekend’s violence, faulted logistics.

“Kessler did nothing morally wrong,” he said. “However, his organizing left a lot to be desired.”

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Interest in U.S. diplomatic corps tumbles in early months of Trump

Interest in joining the State Department’s elite ranks of Foreign Service officers has tumbled in the early months of the Trump administration, triggering worries among former officials about the long-run risks to U.S. diplomatic power.

This June, the number of Americans who took the Foreign Service exam to start the process of joining the prestigious State Department ranks fell 26 percent from the same month a year earlier to 2,730, according to data obtained by POLITICO. The June tally marked the lowest number of test-takers in nearly a decade.

The drop in interest threatens to constrict the State Department’s pipeline for skilled diplomats representing U.S. interests around the world. It comes in the wake of President Donald Trump’s proposal to slash the department’s budget by a third, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s push to overhaul State’s overall structure. The nearly 14,000 Foreign Service employees carry out U.S. diplomacy around the world, interacting with people from other countries while helping Americans overseas.

“The Foreign Service is like the military — if you don’t bring in lieutenants now, you don’t have the majors you need in 10 years and don’t have the colonels you need in 20,” said Ronald E. Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy who served in a number of top diplomatic posts including as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007.

Trump’s comments on Thursday thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia because it would save the U.S. “a lot of money” stunned and disappointed the State Department rank-and-file and could further dissuade people from joining the diplomatic corps, though Trump said Friday he was “absolutely” being sarcastic with the remark.

Some people who had previously been considering joining the Foreign Service, the backbone of the U.S. diplomatic corps, cited proposed cutbacks at the State Department and a perception that the new president is less interested in diplomacy.

“I feel like this is a time when more people should be trying to join State and trying to change the dynamic there right now,” said one grad student who had considered pursuing the Foreign Service but no longer is actively applying to State. The Trump administration doesn’t “treat the State Department with as much respect as they should.”

She’s now looking at private-sector opportunities, such as consulting, to gain experience and “wait out the administration.”

Devika Ranjan, president of the student Academic Council of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service this past year, said many of her recent fellow graduates, who earlier would have followed a storied tradition of the school’s grads going into State, are choosing to focus their attention instead on think tanks, nonprofits and further education. “They’re concerned about representing the United States abroad when they don’t necessarily agree with the decisions of the administration,” she said.

There are still more than enough applications to fill the limited number of open slots in the Foreign Service, an intensely competitive program in which only 1.8% of Foreign Service applicants get hired. The State Department expects to hire 222 new Foreign Service officers by the end of fiscal year 2017, according to a State Department official. Since 9/11, annual hiring for FSOs has ranged from about 300 to just above 700.

The exam is usually given three times a year. The number of applicants spiked to almost 9,000 in June 2009 and was mostly around 4,000 to 7,000 for tests during the Obama years.

Some current and former diplomats worry the U.S. is missing out on talented people who choose not to apply to State during the Trump administration, limiting the quality of Foreign Service officers ultimately hired to represent the U.S. abroad.

The data appears to be “a clear reaction to the actions taken by the current administration against the Foreign Service, and uncertainty about career prospects for new grads and other exam-takers,” said W. Robert Pearson, who was director general of the U.S. Foreign Service from 2003 to 2006.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said there was “continued strong interest in serving in the Foreign Service” and that the Foreign Service pipelines were “robust” with more than 750 candidates now being considered.

“The general trend of Foreign Service applicants has been on a decline” since the 2013 fiscal year, she said in a statement. “While there are regular seasonal variations, it’s clear that Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) applications overall move in the same direction as unemployment rates and with sustained, historically low unemployment rates, the Department is not surprised or concerned about a reduction in FSOT applications.”

Some conservatives have defended what the Trump administration is doing to the State Department and say it’s not surprising to see ebbs and flows of people interested in government service.

James Roberts, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said employment at the State Department has climbed since 9/11.

“There are a lot more people working there now than there were 10 years ago and the overall budget of the international affairs operation of the federal government has more than doubled the past 12 years,” he said. “So if there’s a proposal to take a cut, it’s on the basis of having expanded dramatically in the last decade. And of course that will affect decisions about hiring and personnel and retirement.”

Regardless of Trump being in office, many younger Americans say they’re still interested in joining the Foreign Service because they want to serve their country and travel the world with a career in the State Department.

“Despite the fact that Trump is trying to gut the State Department right now, I still would like to work there [even though] it seems to be on fire,” said one master’s student in international affairs, who recently passed the test.

“Right now is when we need good people the most, because things aren’t functioning properly and we need people who can pick up the pieces,” she said. “If people decide to stop trying it’s only going to get worse and the image of the U.S. will continue to go down overseas.”

Observers said the administration’s proposed budget cuts, for instance, sends a signal to Americans interested in foreign policy and international relations.

“There is a lot of talent inside that can choose and has chosen to go elsewhere,” said a former ambassador. “The new talent has choices, too.”

Tillerson “needs us more than we need him, and it will take our country a very long time to rebuild this very modest but valuable asset,” the former ambassador said.

Top grad schools for international affairs that typically funnel graduates to the State Department also report a drop-off in interest. Information sessions for students who wanted to learn more about life as a Foreign Service officer at one leading university regularly drew at least 20 to 25 people. At one recent session, only three people showed up, according to a career services official at that university.

Adding to the uncertainty for potential recruits is what the State Department, and by extension the Foreign Service, will look like by the end of Trump’s tenure. Tillerson, the secretary of state, has already suspended the use of prestigious fellowship programs and otherwise severely restricted hiring as he ponders ways to reorganize the department, a process that could take many more months to complete. The vast majority of undersecretary and assistant secretary positions have not been filled, leaving various bureaus headed by someone appointed on an acting basis.

The Trump administration’s approach to diplomacy has also sparked concern on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats lawmakers are trying to prevent the proposed Trump cuts to the State Department.

“Diplomacy — the Foreign Service — is part of our national security,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, who said a hobbled diplomatic corps would hurt the U.S. ability to project its power across the globe. “There has already been damage. It will take significant time to rebuild that capacity.”

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Trump fails to condemn white supremacists in statement on Charlottesville violence

President Donald Trump declined to condemn the violent actions and protests of white supremacists on Saturday, who had converged on Charlottesville, Va., en masse to protest the removal of a statue of a Confederate general.

The clashes killed at least one person and injured a number of others.

Instead, Trump called out in what he deemed the strongest possible terms “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides.” Yet, he never denounced by name the extremist group, or called their behavior unacceptable. He made his pronouncements from his golf club in New Jersey just before signing a bill related to veterans’ health care.

Earlier in the day, hours after the white nationalists had marched in Virginia with lanterns and assaulted non-violent protesters, Trump tweeted out that “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!”

This call for Americans to “come together as one” alongside a high-profile white nationalist group that openly derides minorities, Jews, and women left many people aghast. It also gave Democrats an opportunity to paint Trump as a president ill-equipped to represent all Americans.

“America is no place for bigots. And to be silent in the face of their hatred is to condone it,” said Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Party in a statement. “That’s why it is on all of us to stand up to these reprehensible acts and speak out against white supremacy. We cannot allow a group of cowards instill fear in our communities.”

By late Saturday afternoon, a number of prominent Republican lawmakers including Sens. Cory Gardner, Orrin Hatch, Tim Scott, and Marco Rubio, along with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers had condemned the actions of the white supremacists in far stronger language than the president.

Gardner went as far as calling the incident “domestic terrorism.”

“Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists,” Gardner tweeted from his official account.

Rubio also wrote on Twitter that it was important “for the nation to @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.”

Trump’s response to the Charlottesville white nationalist demonstrations also showed the limits of Gen. John Kelly’s power as the newly-installed White House chief of staff. Kelly has spent the last two weeks trying to professionalize the decision-making process inside the White House, but he has been unable to steer Trump away from controversy, including his provocative statements on North Korea this week.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency on Saturday with law enforcement in riot gear flooding the area. The worst violence came in the afternoon, when a car sped up and rammed into a group of people protesting the white nationalists and resulted in one death and numerous injuries. The state police later linked a helicopter crash that killed the pilot and a passenger outside Charlottesville to the rally, bringing the death tally Saturday to three.

In his in-person statement, Trump was quick to thank law enforcement. “What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives,” he said. “No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society, and no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play or be with their parents and have a good time.”

The group that gathered in Charlottesville included well-known figures in the white supremacist movement including David Duke, who previously ran the Ku Klux Klan, and Richard Spencer, the so-called “alt-right” leader, who in November at Washington D.C. conference, led supporters in a Nazi salute and the chanting of “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”

The furthest Trump went in protesting the white nationalists’ “Unite the Right” rally was to say that his administration wanted to “get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville and we want to study it and we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country, where things like this can happen.”

In closing, Trump — who in recent days has publicly criticized Mitch McConnell and Republican senators and announced the firing of his former chief of staff via Twitter — went on to say: “We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.”

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