A US senator has acknowledged that “white nationalists are racists”, changing course on his previous comments.
In a CNN interview this week, Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, said it was “some people’s opinion” that white nationalists are racist.
That statement was condemned by both sides of the US political spectrum.
In several recent media interviews Mr Tuberville had repeatedly declined to call white nationalists racist.
Organisations that track extremist groups in the US largely define white nationalism as an ideology that seeks to create an “ethno-state” with white identity at its heart.
During an interview with CNN on Monday, Mr Tuberville said that “my opinion of a white nationalist, if someone wants to call them white nationalist, to me is an American”.
He also said white nationalists “have different beliefs. But if racism is one of those beliefs, I’m totally against it.”
The row began in May when the lawmaker told Alabama radio station WBHM that efforts to root out “white extremists” and “white nationalists” in the military were politically motivated.
Responding to criticism afterwards, Mr Tuberville said: “Democrats portray all Trump people as white nationalists. That’s what I was saying.”
Speaking briefly in a Capitol Hill hallway on Tuesday, the senator appeared to back away from his earlier remarks, telling reporters that “white nationalists are racist”.
He did not elaborate on the remark or say anything about his previous comments.
The change of tune came as Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike condemned Mr Tuberville’s comments as inappropriate and called for him to apologise.
The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters that white supremacist ideology is “simply unacceptable in the military and our whole country”.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said “the definition of white nationalism is not a matter of opinion”.
The New York senator said white nationalism was “racist down to its rotten core”.
Mr Tuberville, a former college football coach, has also come under intense criticism for holding up the nomination of more than 200 top military appointments to protest against a Pentagon policy that offers travel allowances and time off for military personnel who want an abortion.
He has vowed to continue the protest.
Source : BBC