National Press Club

NAACP president says White House creates atmosphere for domestic terrorism

August 29, 2017 | By Justin Duckham | justin@talkmedianews.com

Derrick Johnson, interim president of the NAACP, told an Aug. 29, 2017, National Press Club Headliners Luncheon that the Trump administration created the atmosphere that led to a deadly white sumpremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier in the month.

Derrick Johnson, interim president of the NAACP, told an Aug. 29, 2017, National Press Club Headliners Luncheon that the Trump administration created the atmosphere that led to a deadly white sumpremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., earlier in the month.

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Derrick Johnson, interim president of the NAACP, said Aug. 29 the Trump White House was responsible for the conditions that led to this month’s deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Unfortunately, this administration has created an atmosphere that has allowed domestic terrorists to exist,” Johnson said at a National Press Club Headliners Luncheon.

Various far-right hate groups gathered in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, ostensibly to protest plans to remove a statue of confederate general Robert E Lee from a public park.

That afternoon, a suspect drove his car into a gathering of counter protesters, killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer.

The suspect who killed Heyer, along with those at the rally promoting violence, were domestic terrorists and should be described that way, Johnson said.

“We should not mince our words,” Johnson said. “They go to incite harm and conflict. For us to say they are part of neo-Nazi only, or that they are KKK only or they’re white supremacists only is not to fully appreciate what they are seeking to do or who they are.”

In the aftermath, President Donald Trump delivered a speech condemning bigotry and violence on “many sides,” sparking criticism that Trump was equating the actions of protesters with white supremacists. While the White House attempted to walk back the remarks, Trump said in a press conference Aug. 15 that there were “very fine people” among both the rally’s participants and counter protesters.

If Trump administration reaches out to the NAACP, the engagement would have to be meaningful, Johnson said.

“If we’re talking about substantive outcomes, then we welcome that meeting, if we’re talking about a photo-op, that’s a meeting we will not have,” Johnson said.

Ending the administration’s review of voter fraud and reversing its decision to provide police departments with military equipment would be examples of substantive outcomes, according to Johnson.

Johnson also spoke out against the presence of Confederate statues and imagery in public life, a controversy that has extended nationwide in the wake of the Charlottesville rally.

“Symbols that recognize treason should not recognize a governmental entity, period," he said. "If there are people those that want to recognize and celebrate that, it’s okay to relocate that in a museum or a cemetery.

“I prefer a cemetery,” he quipped.

The NAACP, founded in 1909, is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights organizations addressing the concerns of African Americans.

Johnson previously served as the NAACP’s vice chair and was named interim president and chief executive in July in a unanimous vote by the group’s board of directors.

The NAACP intends to meet with textbook publishers to discuss how the Civil War is portrayed in public education, Johnson said.

While noting that the current debate is significant, Johnson cautioned that it should not divert from policy concerns, most notably congressional redistricting and efforts to enact strict voter ID laws, campaigns that civil rights organizations like the NAACP have claimed disproportionately harm minority voters.

“We should not get distracted over the question of its existence with the real issue confronting us of who controls the public policy and whether or not we have a voice in that process,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s appearance came amid the ongoing crisis posed by Hurricane Harvey, which has resulted in massive flooding in Texas.

When asked by Club President Jeff Ballou what the NAACP was doing to address the tropical storm, Johnson noted that the national organization and officials with its Texas branch intend to monitor and work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that minority neighborhoods receive equitable treatment in the recovery process.