Fact Check: Harris Lies to the American People During Debate by Repeating 'Very Fine People' Hoax
A tired and widely discredited left-wing narrative reared its ugly head once again at the 2020 vice presidential debate Wednesday night.
Sparring with incumbent Vice President Mike Pence on the issue of race in the criminal justice system, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California went low, dredging up allegations that President Donald Trump referred to white supremacists as “fine people” shortly after the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“We are talking about an election in 27 days where last week, the president of the United States took the debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists,” Harris said. “This is a part of a pattern of Donald Trump.”
“On the issue of Charlottesville — where people were peacefully protesting the need for racial justice, where a young woman was killed and on the other side there were neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches, shouting racial epithets, anti-Semitic slurs — Donald Trump, when asked about it, said there were ‘fine people’ on both sides,” she said.
“This is who we have as the president of the United States, and America, you deserve better.”
Kamala Harris: “There were neo-Nazis carrying tiki torches, shouting racial epithets, anti-Semitic slurs, and Donald Trump, when asked about it, said ‘they were fine people on both sides’ … America you deserve better.” #VPDebate pic.twitter.com/vDUOqo61pZ
— The American Independent (@AmerIndependent) October 8, 2020
Pence was quick to cut in, firmly arguing the statement was “not true” as Harris persisted, her remarks in direct contradiction with a number of topical fact checks released by PolitiFact and the centrist Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org over the years.
The presidential remarks in question were made in the wake of a high-profile protest against Confederate monument removal on Aug. 12, 2017, that turned violent and resulted in the death of a 33-year-old local, Heather Heyer.
Fully contextualized, however, Trump’s remarks in response to the incident reveal a swift admonishment of any and all political violence, and eventually a direct condemnation of neo-Nazi and white supremacist actors.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides,” the president said on the day of the event. “The hate and the division must stop, and must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection.”
Just two days later, Trump would declare, “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.”
In follow-up statements, the president would reiterate that his “very fine people” remark was intended solely for the nonviolent demonstrators on both sides in Charlottesville, some of whom, it seems, may have arrived in support of their respective political cause ignorant to the fact that hate groups were getting involved at the event.
“You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” Trump said during a news conference Aug. 15, 2017. “You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.”
He added, “And you had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists — because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. OK?
“And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) October 8, 2020
In spite of these facts, the narrative has managed to live on as something of an accepted reality in the modern American political consciousness, frequently forwarded by opportunistic Democratic politicians and rarely checked by an uncritical left-wing establishment media.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, for instance, has been quick to weaponize the narrative, claiming the incident itself sparked his will to run for president and even employing the false narrative in last week’s presidential debate.
Often a better defender of the president than the president himself, however, Pence was unwilling to let such remarks stand Wednesday night, addressing the facts of the incident and calling out widespread manipulation of Trump’s original statement.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes people dislike the media so much in this country,” the vice president said. “That you selectively edited, like Senator Harris did, comments that President Trump and I, and others on our side of the aisle, make.”
Vice President Mike Pence fact-checks Sen. Kamala Harris’s claim that President Trump said there were “fine people on both sides” in the Charlottesville white supremacist riots in real-time. pic.twitter.com/o4FxuyQA99
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) October 8, 2020
“Senator Harris conveniently omitted, after the president made comments about people on either side of the debate over monuments, he condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists and has done so repeatedly,” he said, going on to remind Harris and the American people that some of the president’s closest family members and in-laws are Jewish.
“Your concern that he doesn’t condemn neo-Nazis — President Trump has Jewish grandchildren,” Pence said. “This is a president who respects and cherishes all of the American people.”
This was not the only standoff in which Harris misled debate viewers Wednesday night, however.
Independent fact checks and sharp eyes across the social media sphere were quick to point out a handful of mistruths in the Democratic vice presidential hopeful’s performance.
The laundry list included everything from Harris’ strange claims that President Abraham Lincoln did not nominate Supreme Court justices during election years to the widely debunked allegation that Trump at one point referred to COVID-19 as a “hoax,” according to CNN.
These, too, were not the worst of it, largely eclipsed late in the debate as Harris suggested a Biden administration would not ban American hydraulic fracturing for fossil fuels — an outright lie given both candidates’ long histories of public support for a fracking ban.
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