President Trump, struggling in his re-election race against his Democratic opponent, on Tuesday sought to appeal to his predominantly white base of voters with a series of startling remarks about the Confederate flag, victims of police violence and a St. Louis couple who pointed guns at protesters peacefully marching by their house.
Mr. Trump added to his long record of racially inflammatory comments during an interview with CBS News, in which he brushed off a question about Black people killed by police officers, saying that white people are killed in greater numbers.
Mr. Trump reacted angrily when asked about the issue, which has led to nationwide protests calling for major law enforcement changes.
“Why are African-Americans still dying at the hands of law enforcement in this country?” the interviewer, Catherine Herridge of CBS News, asked the president.
“What a terrible question to ask,” Mr. Trump responded. “So are white people. More white people, by the way.”
Statistics show that while more white Americans are killed by the police over all, people of color are killed at higher rates. A federal study that examined lethal force used by the police from 2009 to 2012 found that a majority of victims were white, but the victims were disproportionately Black. Black people had a fatality rate at the hands of police officers that was 2.8 times as high as that of white people.
In a separate interview published on Tuesday with the conservative website Townhall.com, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that a white couple in St. Louis who confronted peaceful marchers outside their home with guns had been on the verge of being beaten and having their home burned down.
“They were going to be beat up badly, and the house was going to be totally ransacked and probably burned down,” Mr. Trump said.
Video of the incident, which became a flash point in the national debate over racial inequality, showed that the protesters at no point physically threatened the couple.
The president’s remarks were the latest example of his refusal to acknowledge the racial discrimination that even many in his own party have said must be addressed. But Mr. Trump, who recently retweeted a video of a supporter shouting “white power” and said he would oppose a bipartisan effort in Congress to remove Confederate names from military bases, has displayed no intention of trying to bridge the country’s racial divide.
Asked in the CBS interview how he felt about the use of the Confederate battle flag in public settings like NASCAR races, the president said: “With me, it’s freedom of speech. Very simple. Like it, don’t like it, it’s freedom of speech.”
Asked if he understood that the flag was a painful symbol to many people as a reminder of slavery, Mr. Trump said, “Well, people love it and I don’t view — I know people that like the Confederate flag and they’re not thinking about slavery.” He added, “I just think it’s freedom of speech, whether it’s Confederate flags or Black Lives Matter or anything else you want to talk about.”