Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson this week played down the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, calling the controversy over President Donald Trump’s response “little squabbles” that are “being blown out of proportion” and echoing the president’s equating of white nationalist hate groups with counter-protesters.
In a social-media post after the protests in Charlottesville grew deadly on Saturday, Carson said, “Let us pray for those killed and injured during the unrest in Charlottesville today, but also for our nation as it is being severely threatened by hatred and bigotry on all sides.”
On Monday, touring communities in Louisiana ravaged by floods a year ago, he spoke at some length about the widespread criticism leveled against Trump for seeming to blame equally the white supremacists and demonstrators protesting their presence in the Virginia city.
“When he talks about the fact that hatred and bigotry and these things are unacceptable,” Carson said of Trump, “he’s talking about everybody. … You’d think he was saying that hatred and bigotry are unacceptable except by neo-Nazis. We really have got to begin to think more logically and stop trying to stir up controversy and start concentrating on the issues that threaten us and threaten our children.”
“We the people have got to be smarter than this,” Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and the only African-American Cabinet member in the Trump administration, said at a news conference at the offices of the Livingston Parish News, a community newspaper in Denham Springs, Louisiana.
He accused the media of overreacting to Trump’s comments – both his initial remarks on Saturday and his comments during a news conference on Tuesday – and said the country needs to focus on bigger problems.
“We all have to recognize that there are other things that are important here and don’t get caught up in these little squabbles and blow them out of proportion,” Carson said, “and spend all of our time talking about that.”
In his post on Saturday, Carson wrote that he was pleased that Trump “overtly disavowed any relationship with white supremacists.”
“We should all reject the forces of division on all sides of the political spectrum,” he wrote. “There are radical terrorists in the world who want to destroy us and are coming dangerously close to acquiring the means to accomplish their goals.”
On Sunday, he criticized “political pundits for arguing about whether President Trump went far enough in condemning the instigators of the violence.”
In his initial remarks on Saturday, Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest most possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
On Tuesday, the president doubled down on his weekend comments, a day after he directly condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists in a White House statement in the face of mounting pressure from both sides of the aisle.
Amid the furor over Trump’s Tuesday comments, Carson took to social media again with a personal story on Wednesday afternoon.
He wrote about a neighbor next to his farm in rural Maryland who hung a Confederate flag in front of his house when he and his wife moved in but was “shamed” by neighbors who hung American flags in protest.
He said that, more recently, his home in Virginia was vandalized by people “who wrote hateful rhetoric about President Trump.” The couple’s neighbors cleaned up the mess.
In both instances, Carson wrote, “less than kind behavior was met by people taking the high road.”