LOS ANGELES — City Attorney Mike Feuer slammed President Donald Trump’s reaction to violence perpetrated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, and said elected leaders must take clear and direct action to oppose hate groups.
“By what [Trump] has said, he has helped to normalize and embolden and give license to the neo-Nazis and the white supremacists and those who are focused on hate,” Feuer said Aug. 18.
Feuer also said if any similar rally were to be planned in Los Angeles, he would advise the city to look at restrictions Boston put on a white nationalist rally Aug. 19, which included a ban on backpacks, sticks and any other visible weapons.
The city attorney’s comments were in response to a rally that was attended by hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville Aug. 12 that led to violent clashes with counter-protesters. One woman was killed and 19 were injured after a car allegedly driven by a man who marched with a white supremacist group slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters.
Many attendees of the rally carried Nazi flags while chanting anti-Jewish slogans and Nazi rallying cries of “blood and soil” and “sieg heil.”
Trump has been criticized for saying that not all of the people at the rally were Nazis or white supremacists but “very fine people” and that “both sides” were responsible for the violence.
The city attorney delivered his remarks at an informal news conference he called at his office in City Hall East. Seated at a long table — where he had also offered lunch to the visiting media — Feuer did not announce any new agenda or actions, but said he simply wanted to talk about Charlottesville because “there needs to be clear and direct actions by people of leadership at every level of government.”
Feuer, who is Jewish, also spoke about the experience of his parents during World War II and how it helped form his strong opposition to anti-Semitic groups. Feuer’s father was a pilot who was shot down over Europe and taken prisoner by the Nazis, and his mother had to flee the Holocaust in Europe at age 12 when her family put her on a boat for America.
He also talked about growing up in San Bernardino where some kids picked on him and told him he was “destined for hell” because he was Jewish.
“So I know what it feels like to feel like ‘the other’ in these situations,” Feuer said.
Feuer also pointed to a series of lawsuits his office has brought against alleged members of a criminal white supremacist gang in the San Fernando Valley as an example of how his office has fought hate groups in L.A. and said those efforts would continue.
Although L.A. receives few reports overall of hate crimes, Feuer said they have tripled this year compared to the same time period last year to 34. He blamed Trump.
“The president’s campaign was fueled by the very forces he’s emboldened. It’s obvious,” Feuer said. “He’s so reluctant to distance himself from these influences, because those are the people who propelled him into office. He would not be president were it not for them, among others.”
Feuer also spoke several times about how, as one of only three citywide elected leaders including the mayor and controller, he wanted to show leadership on opposing hate not just with words but with actions, although he admitted he wasn’t yet sure how those actions might manifest themselves.
“We’ve reduced ourselves in public life now to the tweets in public life as if those are the best ways for us as public officials to exert any leadership. And that to me is so peripheral to what it means to be a responsible elected official,” Feuer said.
With so much talk of leadership and with the news conference not having any particular agenda attached to it other than a desire to speak to the press, Feuer was asked if he was thinking of running for mayor in the future.
Mayor Eric Garcetti was recently sworn in for his second and final term, and is rumored to be eyeing a run at higher office that could include governor, senator or president.
Feuer would not answer the question.
“I’m thinking about being the best city attorney I can be,” he said.
When pressed to give a definitive answer, he said, “I’m speaking today not just as a city attorney. I’m speaking as one of three elected city officials, and I think that it’s important that sometimes, a lot of the time, we perform roles that are narrowly defined. Our office defends the city when it is sued — I sued Wells Fargo on behalf of the people. But it is also the case that I was elected by the people of the city to lead in a more expansive way. And I am trying as city attorney to exert that kind of leadership.”