Heather Heyer's mother says she wasn't surprised Trump refused to condemn white supremacy

CNN's Van Jones reacts to President Donald Trump's refusal to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate of the 2020 election.

Posted: Oct 1, 2020 3:51 AM
Updated: Oct 1, 2020 3:51 AM

More than three years after her daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed in the Charlottesville rally, Susan Bro says she gasped when President Donald Trump refused to denounce white supremacy during the debate.

And then she returned back to work.

"I thought, well, OK, not surprised," she told CNN's Anderson Cooper Wednesday night. "This is not exactly new news."

The President has faced stark criticism since Tuesday's debate when he referenced the far-right group the Proud Boys and told them to "stand back and stand by," adding "somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem."

But according to Kathleen Belew, an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago, that's not exactly the case.

Extremist groups remain a threat

In the past 25 years, hundreds in the US have lost their lives in domestic terrorist attacks, Belew told CNN. And the number of victims from those attacks, she added, "far outstrips the threat posed by the radical left."

"Those groups have waged violence on Americans countless times," she said. "The record, the casualty count is overwhelming."

Last year, the FBI director said white supremacy presents a "persistent" and "pervasive" threat to the US.

But this wasn't the first time Trump refused to denounce members of hate groups, including white supremacists. When Bro's daughter was killed during a 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump said there were "some very fine people on both sides."

But Bro says unlike her daughter, victims of white supremacy who are people of color are often lost in the conversation.

"Unfortunately, that's why people are refusing to step up and act," she added. "Everybody get up and get busy."

A moment not just about the Proud Boys

Members of the Proud Boys have celebrated the President's comments this week, often with memes and other posts on social media. But Belew says Trump's words were seen as a green light by more than just that one group.

"I think it would be a mistake to think about this as a problem that is only about the Proud Boys," she said. "Certainly the Proud Boys are galvanizing this moment for their own purposes ... but this is about a broader situation."

That broader situation, she says, is the larger social movement of extremist groups including "people who are involved in paramilitary underground activity," she said, who also heard the same comments.

"All of those people have been called to stand by," she said. "That's not the same thing as stand down and the results, I think, could be catastrophic."

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