Aug. 15 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his initial response that "many sides" were involved in the violent confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va.
"You had a group on one side that was mad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent," Trump told reporters at Trump Tower in New York. "Nobody wants to say that, but I'll say that. ... You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent."
He noted it was a "fine statement" Saturday even though Republicans and Democrats criticized him for not specifically condemning those who staged the demonstration in the city.
Trump said he didn't single out who to blame shortly after the violence that led to one woman killed and 19 others hurt "because I didn't know all the facts."
"I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct," Trump said.
"There was no way of making a correct statement that early," Trump said. "I had to see the facts. Unlike a lot of reporters -- I didn't know [white supremacist] David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts."
On Monday, he was specific, saying in a statement "racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs -- including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans."
On Tuesday, he returned to condemnation of "many sides."
He said counter-protesters played a part in the "horrible day" and were not being scrutinized enough.
"What about the 'alt-left' that came charging at, as you say, the 'alt-right'? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" Trump said. "They came charging with clubs in their hands."
After Trump's appearance with the media, Duke -- the former KKK leader -- praised Trump, posting on Twitter: "Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa."
Trump said many of the protesters who joined the white nationalists were innocent and blamed the media for dishonestly covering the confrontation.
He defended those who gathered to protest the removal of a statue honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy.
"Was George Washington a slave owner. So will George Washington lose his status?" he said. "What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? ... You're changing history. You're changing culture."
During the protest, a car rammed into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. The driver, James Alex Fields, Jr., was charged with second-degree murder in the incident.
"The driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country," Trump said. "You can call it terrorism; you can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want."
During his appearance with the media, Trump also was asked about the status of his chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has been aligned with the alt-right as the former head of Breitbart News
"We'll see what happens with Mr. Bannon," Trump said at a news conference on infrastructure at Trump Tower in New York City. "I like him. He is a good man. He is not a racist. I can tell you that. He is a good person."