By John Wagner and Jenna Johnson

US President Donald Trump is often quick to respond to terrorising acts of violence.

As news broke of a terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015, Trump immediately tweeted that he was praying for "the victims and hostages". Very soon after a shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub in June 2016, Trump tweeted that he was "right on radical Islamic terrorism".

But he kept quiet as a protest led by white nationalists, who arrived with torches and chants in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, turned violent. The cable networks that he usually watches showed footage of increasingly violent clashes between the white nationalists, some of whom looked like soldiers because they were so heavily armed, and the counterprotesters who showed up to challenge them.

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He kept quiet as David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, declared that the scene in Charlottesville is a "turning point" for a movement that aims to "fulfill the promises of Donald Trump". The President kept quiet as Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency.

Then, Trump took a break from his working holiday at his private golf club to tweet: "We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!"

Trump has long tiptoed around the issue of white supremacy and has yet to provide a full-throttled rebuke of those who invoke his name. He had to be repeatedly pushed to denounce Duke after the former KKK leader endorsed him and praised him. His candidacy excited many white nationalists.

About two hours after the tweet, Trump expanded with four-minute statement that began: "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides". He then added for emphasis: "On many sides". When asked what the President meant by "on many sides," a White House spokesperson responded: "The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counterprotesters today".

A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Photo / AP
A vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. Photo / AP

Later, Trump offered his condolences to a victim and "best regards to all of those injured". Trump never used the words "white supremacy" or "white nationalism". He didn't mention the vehicle that had driven into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville - a tactic that has been repeatedly used by Isis terrorists. He was vague enough that his statement could be interpreted in different ways.

Many Americans wanted their president to be crystal-clear.

"The President's talk of violence 'on many sides' ignores the shameful reality of white supremacism in our country today," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R) tweeted: "'White supremacy' crap is worst kind of racism-it's EVIL and perversion of God's truth to ever think our Creator values some above others." And Senator Orrin Hatch (R) tweeted: "We should call evil by its name. My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home."

What Trump said:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides."

What others are saying:

• "I'm not going to make any bones about it. I place the blame for a lot of what you're seeing in American today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the President." - Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, D.
• "Mr President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism." - Senator Cory Gardner, R.
• "Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists" - Senator Marco Rubio, R.
• "Even as we protect free speech and assembly, we must condemn hatred, violence and white supremacy." - Former President Bill Clinton on Twitter.
• "Trump comments were good. He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. ... No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him." - Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website.