President Donald Trump has denounced the removal of “beautiful” Confederate statues amid a heated national debate about US race relations.
He tweeted: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
“You can’t change history, but you can learn from it,” the president continued.
President Trump drew outrage by defending organizers of a white supremacist rally that left one person dead and dozens hurt.
The rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, supported by neo-Nazis and white supremacists, was in protest of the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a general who had fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War.
The protest turned deadly when a driver ploughed into a crowd of counter protesters, inflicting fatal injuries on Heather Heyer.
In a series of tweets on August 17, President Trump said: “Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson – who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”
“The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
The recent removal of controversial statues, including some to leaders of the pro-slavery rebellion defeated in the US Civil War, has been the latest flashpoint in racial tensions across the country.
Critics say monuments to the Confederacy are racially offensive, but supporters say they are important symbols preserving Southern heritage.
On August 17, Maine’s Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, said that taking down Confederate statues is “just like” removing a monument to the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
However, relatives of Stonewall Jackson, a Confederate leader President Trump mentioned in his tweets, wrote an open letter to the mayor of Richmond, Virginia, urging him to remove the statue of their great-great-grandfather and all other Confederate statues in town.
Jack and Warren Christian, Stonewall Jackson’s great-great-sons, said removing the statues would “further difficult conversations about racial justice”.
“While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” the pair wrote.
“We are ashamed of the monument.”
Robert E. Lee V, the great-great-grandson of the famous Confederate general, also issued a statement condemning the violence in the wake of the statue removals.
Donald Trump’s comments came after a week of turmoil over his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville.
The president was criticized for blaming both sides for the violence, but belatedly condemned the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups on August 14.
During a heated news conference on August 15, President Trump backtracked and again blamed left-wing counter-protesters for the incident, too.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the upper chamber, said in an interview with Vice News that President Trump’s “moral authority” had been “compromised”.
“I’m not going to defend the indefensible… [Donald Trump’s] comments on Monday were strong. His comments on Tuesday started erasing the comments that were strong,” Senator Scott said.
“What we want to see from our president is clarity and moral authority. And that moral authority is compromised.”
Amid the fallout over President Trump’s response, corporate leaders and CEOs began resigning from two White House business councils.
On August 16, the Strategy and Policy Forum announced it would disband as Presidnet Trump said he would end the council as well as a manufacturing one.