Sessions: DOJ Taking ‘Vigorous Action’ to Protect Those Who ‘Protest Against Racism and Bigotry’

By Susan Jones | August 14, 2017 | 8:41am EDT
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday the Trump Justice Department will take "the most vigorous action to protect the right of people like Heather Heyer to protest against racism and bigotry." (Screen grab from NBC's "Today" show)

(CNSNews.com) – Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists are going to discover that the Trump administration is “coming after them for any violations of the law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Monday.

Sessions, a recent target of Trump’s criticism, on Monday defended the president for making a “very strong statement” against the “hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, white supremacy” espoused at weekend rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Those things must be condemned in this country,” Sessions told NBC’s “Today” show. “They're totally unacceptable, and you can be sure that this Department of Justice in his (Trump’s) administration is going to take the most vigorous action to protect the right of people like Heather Heyer to protest against racism and bigotry. 

“We're going to protect the right to assemble and march, and we're going to prosecute anybody to the full extent of the law that violates their ability do so, so, you can be sure of that,” Sessions added.

The white supremacists, including neo-Nazis and the KKK, had a permit to protest the removal of Confederate statues in public parks, but their protest attracted counter-protesters. One of those counter-protesters, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed when a car driven by a young white man, apparently a white supremacist, rammed a crowded intersection.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday that the Justice Departent has opened a civil rights investigation into the car-ramming to "make a determination about whether it's appropriate to charge this as an act of terror." Pompeo said he is confident that DOJ "will investigate that with enormous rigor and get to the right outcome."

President Trump, meanwhile, is expected to say more about the Charlottesville violence on Monday, but some critics say it’s too late – he missed an opportunity to criticize the white supremacist groups by name when he spoke on Saturday.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence -- on many sides, on many sides,” Trump said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon. “It’s been going on for a long time in our country -- not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama -- it’s been going on for a long, long time.”

Trump’s suggestion that “hatred, bigotry and violence” exists on “many sides” offended some Americans. On Monday, “Today” anchor Samantha Guthrie asked Sessions, “What are the other sides?”

Sessions replied, “Well, we've had violence around the country in any number of ways over decades. We've had these spasms of violence that are unacceptable in America.”

Sessions noted that Trump on Saturday said the problems have been going on for a long time: “He said what happened in Charlottesville is unacceptable. We need to find out what happened, that it's wrong, and we need to study it and see what, as a nation, we can do to be more effective against this kind of extremism -- and evil, really. I thought it was a pretty -- it was a good statement, delivered just a few hours after the event,” Sessions said.

As criticism against the president mounted, the White House on Sunday issued a statement explicitly calling out the neo-Nazis, the KKK “and all extremist groups.”

“Amazingly, Nazism remains alive after all the evil it has caused in the world, and so I think that we take this seriously,” Sessions said. “We go at it directly, morally, legally, politically, legitimately and any way possible to reject this kind of ideology that that causes division and hatred in America. It's just not part of our heritage.”

Sessions said he expects President Trump to speak about the violence later today.

“He will be speaking to the people today, I'm not sure what he'll say, that's my understanding. And he's been firm on this from the beginning. He is appalled by this.”

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