Forsyth County’s state senator and candidate for governor condemned Saturday’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of an anti-racist counter-protester when a car plowed into the crowd.
Williams called the violence domestic terrorism and said that is not “who we are as a nation.”
“I strongly condemn the actions of Vanguard America; their message of white supremacy and their use of bigotry and hatred to divide our citizens,” said the senator, whose District 27 spans the majority of Forsyth County. “My condemnation is not limited to Vanguard, but also hateful racists such as Richard Spencer and his followers.
Spencer and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke attended the demonstrations, which began as a gathering for the group to vent frustration against the city’s plans to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Duke told reporters the white nationalists were working to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”
Counter-protesters massed in opposition.
Williams, in the statement sent to his massive email campaign list Monday morning, also blamed mainstream media for giving alt-right groups “a platform to spew hate and spread division in this great nation.”
“Now is the time for Americans to stand together and fight against beliefs that undermine our society,” he said. “As Christians, God calls on us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves. He does not set conditions upon which neighbors we should love.”
Williams, who ran for the Senate seat openly on the fact that he is Mormon, a businessman and then-first-time politician and who eventually became the first elected official in Georgia to endorse then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during his campaign, asked in his email for people to join him in prayer “for those who lost their life due to hatred this past week.
“And for everyone who has suffered at the hands of bigotry. All patriotic citizens must have the strength to stand up to those who wish to divide our nation by racial lines. There is much to be done to heal our nation, our state and our neighbors. That work begins in our hearts and minds.”
Under pressure following Saturday’s events, President Trump on Monday named and condemned “repugnant” hate groups and declared “racism is evil” in a far more forceful statement than he first made.
On Monday, the president described members of the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists who take part in violence as “criminals and thugs” in a prepared statement he read during an unscheduled address from the White House.
“We must love each other, show affection for each other and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans,” he said.
He also, for the first time, mentioned Heather Heyer by name, as he paid tribute to the woman killed when a car, driven by a 20-year-old man, drove into a group of counter-protesters.
The president left the White House room after his statement without acknowledging reporters’ shouted questions.
Trump noted the Justice Department has opened a civil right investigation into the car crash that killed Heyer.
“To anyone who acted criminally in this weekend’s racist violence, you will be held fully accountable. Justice will be delivered,” he said.
His attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said earlier Monday the violence “does meet the definition of domestic terrorism in our statute.”
A former classmate of the man charged with second-degree murder after he was accused of being the driver in the car that killed Heyer and injured 19 others said the suspect once said he went on a school trip to Germany so he could “get to the Fatherland.”
Keegan McGrath told The Associated Press on Monday that he was roommates with the suspect on that trip in 2015, that he challenged him on his beliefs and went home early because he no longer wanted to be in a room with him.
Sessions told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “You can be sure we will charge and advance the investigation toward the most serious charges that can be brought, because this is an unequivocally unacceptable and evil attack that cannot be accepted in America.”
In the hours after the incident on Saturday, Trump addressed the violence in broad strokes, saying that he condemns “in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”
That was met with swift bipartisan criticism.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he spokes to Trump in the hours after the clashes and twice told the president “We have to stop this hateful speech, this rhetoric.” He said he urged Trump “to come out stronger” against the actions of white supremacists.
Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing the president for not specifically calling out white nationalists. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said Sunday on NBC, “This isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame.”
The White House scrambled to stem the tide of criticism, dispatching aides to the Sunday talk shows and sending out a statement that more forcefully denounced the hate groups.
But there was no name attached to the statement. They are usually signed by the press secretary or another staffer – not putting a name to one eliminates an individual’s responsibility and often undercuts the significance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.