PHOENIX – U.S. President Donald Trump revved up supporters on Tuesday with a defense of his response to a white supremacist-organized rally in Virginia and a promise to shut down the U.S. government if necessary to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
Under fire for saying “both sides” were to blame for the violence between white supremacists and left-wing counter protesters in Virginia on Aug. 12, Trump accused television networks of ignoring his calls for unity in the aftermath.
“I didn’t say I love you because you’re black, or I love you because you’re white,” Trump said. “I love all the people of our country.”
Police used pepper spray to disperse crowds after protesters threw rocks and bottles outside the convention center where Trump spoke, police said.
Trump, who often uses news organizations as a foil, repeatedly singled out the media for criticism of how it covered the violence in the Virginia college town of Charlottesville and the resulting political fallout.
“These are truly dishonest people. They’re bad people. I really think they don’t like our country,” Trump said. “The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media.”
Adopting a glib tone, Trump said many reporters ignored his condemnation of white supremacists, including the Ku Klux Klan.
“I hit ’em with neo-Nazi, I hit ’em with everything … KKK? We have KKK. I got ’em all,” he said.
James Clapper, a former director of U.S. national intelligence, expressed concern at Trump’s performance, calling it “downright scary and disturbing.”
“I question his fitness to be in office,” Clapper told CNN.
Funding for the border wall has flagged in the U.S. Congress as many lawmakers question whether Trump’s main promise during the 2016 presidential election campaign is really necessary.
But with a budget battle looming, Trump said he would be willing to risk a politically damaging government shutdown in order to secure funding for the wall.