Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, said Tuesday President Donald Trump is getting unfairly blasted for his comments about the deadly Charlottesville rally, arguing that liberals haven’t condemned Black Lives Matter and other groups for their “hate and violence.”
“It’s a bit disingenuous to me that so much pressure and criticism has been put on President Trump for what he didn’t say, and yet when these things happen on the other side, silence,” Pittenger, considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable incumbents, said in an interview on a Fayetteville radio station.
“You look at the actions of Black Lives Matter and people like Al Sharpton who have not condemned it – we never heard President Obama condemn the violence of Black Lives Matter,” Pittenger said on WFNC radio’s “Good Morning Fayetteville.”
Pittenger later clarified his remarks. “While I have condemned white supremacists, I made no direct connection between Black Lives Matter and KKK,” he told McClatchy. “However, there is the reality of hate and violence with Black Lives Matter and Antifa, and why should they be given a pass?”
Democrats and Republicans have criticized Trump for appearing to find moral equivalence between the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who organized and participated in the August 12 Charlottesville rally and the counter protesters who opposed them.
The event became an ugly skirmish that left one woman dead. Two Virginia state troopers were also killed when their helicopter crashed while on patrol during the rallies.
Trump, responding to the tragedy, said “I think there’s blame on both sides” and added that protesters in Charlottesville included some “very fine” people.
Pittnger asked, “Why is it okay to call out white supremacists but this ‘antifa’ group – their whole scope and mission is violence.” He was referring to the group whose mission is combating fascism and white nationalism.
The #BlackLivesMatter hashtag gained prominence on social media after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was charged in the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, a black teen, in Florida.
The first Black Lives Matter protests came after the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, three years ago by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer. Black Lives Matter activists have protested at hundreds of events across the nation in the years since, often after the death of a black man or boy in police-involved shootings.
Though Black Lives Matter leaders say the movement is not violent and not anti-police, many — particularly on the right — have accused the group of fostering violence. Earlier this month, state Sen. Dan Bishop, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, said Black Lives Matter and those waiving Nazi flags were "both violent, racist movements."
Pittenger added Tuesday: “I don’t think you can give a pass to people who support the antifa movement or Black Lives Matter movement when they are just as engaged in hate.”
When asked whether he can compare Black Lives Matter to Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, Pittenger said, “Hate in all forms is wrong…are we justified to give a pass to ‘antifa,’ who promote violence, and instigators.”
He noted the September 2016 protests in Charlotte following the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man. The officer was also black.
“We found out, clearly, that was promoted by instigators who came in,” Pittenger said. “You never heard somebody calling that out. Where was Al Sharpton to calling that out? Would have this been the expression of Martin Luther King? No. Where’s the spirit of Martin Luther King in all of this?”
Pittenger also recalled his controversial comment in a BBC interview in September 2016 that some of the black protesters in Charlotte “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” He later apologized for the remarks.
Pittenger in the radio interview Tuesday said he was merely repeating what a black protester was conveying on television in 2016.
“There was an African-American young man, you could see the lack of hope in his eyes, he had nowhere to go in his life, and he said on TV ‘I hate all white people,’” Pittenger recalled. “What he was saying was ‘I have nothing.’ I repeated what he said and then I got into trouble for saying it because they somehow blamed me that I said it…it was reporting what someone else said.”
Pittenger won a tight three-way race for the Republican nomination in 2016, defeating Mark Harris by 134 votes. Pittenger won the general election with more than 58 percent of the vote easily defeating Democrat Christian Cano.
Harris has announced he is running again in 2018. Cano is one of three Democrats competing for the seat, including Maria Collins Warren and Dan McCready, who has raised more than $459,000 already.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted Pittenger’s district as one it hopes to flip in 2018. The district includes Fayetteville and Lumberton in the east and runs along the South Carolina border to include parts of Scotland, Richmond, Anson, Union and Mecklenburg counties.
DCCC officials jumped on Pittenger’s comments Tuesday night.
"For any Member of Congress to defend the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, particularly after their actions and the actions of other white supremacists cost a young woman in Charlottesville her life, is unacceptable,” said Cole Leiter, a DCCC spokesman. “But for Congressman Pittenger, it is simply the most recent episode in his history of racist remarks followed by half-hearted apologies.
“There is no "both sides" when it comes to defending white supremacists and it's past time Congressman Pittenger learn that from the North Carolina families he claims to represent."