Donald Trump has renewed attention on his long history of turning a blind eye to bigotry after dining with a Holocaust-denying white nationalist and rapper Kanye West just days into his third campaign for the White House.
The ex-president had dinner on Tuesday at his Mar-a-Lago club with West, now known as Ye, as well as Nick Fuentes, a far-right activist who has used his online platform to spew antisemitic and white nationalist rhetoric.
West, who says he too is running for president in 2024, has made his own antisemitic comments in recent weeks, leading to his suspension from social media platforms, his talent agency dropping him and companies like Adidas cutting ties with him.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates said: “Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America — including at Mar-a-Lago. Holocaust denial is repugnant and dangerous, and it must be forcefully condemned.”
Mr Trump, in a series of statements on Friday, said he had “never met and knew nothing about” Mr Fuentes before he arrived with West at his club, but the former president also did not acknowledge Mr Fuentes’ long history of racist and antisemitic remarks, or denounce either man’s defamatory statements.
The former president wrote of West on his social media platform: “We got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson.’ Why wouldn’t I agree to meet?”
Mr Trump has a long history of failing to unequivocally condemn hate speech. During his 2016 campaign, he waffled when asked to denounce the Ku Klux Klan after he was endorsed by the group’s former leader, saying in a televised interview that he did not “know anything about David Duke”.
In 2017, after deadly white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, Mr Trump was widely criticised for saying there was “blame on both sides” for the violence.
The latest episode, coming a week after Mr Trump launched his third run for the Republican nomination, also underscored how loosely controlled access to the former president remained, particularly without a traditional campaign operation in place.
West first shared details of the dinner in a video he posted to his Twitter account on Thursday. He said he had travelled to Florida to ask Mr Trump to be his 2024 running mate, and that the meeting had become heated, with Mr Trump “perturbed” by his request and West angered by his criticism of his estranged wife, Kim Kardashian.
“When Trump started basically screaming at me at the table telling me I was gonna lose. I mean, has that ever worked for anyone in history, telling Ye that I’m going to lose?” West asked in the video. “You’re talking to Ye!”
West also said Mr Trump was “really impressed with Nick Fuentes”, who he described as “actually a loyalist”, and said he had asked Mr Trump: “Why when you had the chance did you not free the January 6th-ers?” referring to the defendants alleged to have participated in the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6 2021.
Mr Trump released a series of statements on Friday trying to explain the circumstances of the meeting.
“Kanye West very much wanted to visit Mar-a-Lago. Our dinner meeting was intended to be Kanye and me only, but he arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about,” he said in his first statement released by his campaign.
Not long after, he took to his social media network to say that West and “three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about”, had “unexpectedly showed up” at his club.
“We had dinner on Tuesday evening with many members present on the back patio. The dinner was quick and uneventful. They then left for the airport,” he wrote.
Hours later he again posted, saying he had told West that he “should definitely not run for President”, and that “any voters you may have should vote for TRUMP”.
“Anyway, we got along great, he expressed no anti-Semitism, & I appreciated all of the nice things he said about me on ‘Tucker Carlson,’” he added. “Why wouldn’t I agree to meet? Also, I didn’t know Nick Fuentes.”
Mr Fuentes said after the trip that, while he could not rule out that Mr Trump had heard of him, “I don’t think he knew that I was me at the dinner”.
“I didn’t mean for my statements and my whole background to sort of become a public relations problem for the president,” he added on his show.
The meeting drew immediate criticism from Trump critics as well as some supporters, including David Friedman, who served as the ex-president’s ambassador to Israel.
“To my friend Donald Trump, you are better than this. Even a social visit from an antisemite like Kanye West and human scum like Nick Fuentes is unacceptable,” Friedman wrote in a tweet.
“I urge you to throw those bums out, disavow them and relegate them to the dustbin of history where they belong.”
On Saturday, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, a potential 2024 rival, also denounced antisemitism, without directly referencing the dinner or the president under whom he served.
“Anti-Semitism is a cancer,” he wrote, adding: “We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world’s oldest bigotry.”
President Joe Biden, asked about the Trump dinner meeting, replied: “You don’t want to hear what I think.”