A year after he electrified the Democratic National Convention and offered his pocket Constitution for then candidate Donald J. Trump to read, Gold Star father Khizr Khan said the president cannot lead the country through a moment of racial soul-searching, and described the nation as ‘victimized.’
“We are victimized in a sense that somehow, we are faced with this group of people on the payroll of the United States in the White House, that are hell-bent on misdirecting the United States,” Khan said in an interview. “[Trump] has again shown us proof of morally compromised leadership.”
The Gold Star father directed his criticism beyond the President, specifically towards chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon who formerly ran the alt-right website Breitbart News. Khan also included aides Stephen Miller and Sebastian Gorka as sympathizing with extreme conservative movements, an assertion the White House rejected.
Khan lives with his wife and grandchildren in Charlottesville, and witnessed the assaults and clashes that overwhelmed the city Saturday. His sons and family members urged him to stay away, as scenes on the pedestrian mall mirrored violence in the Middle East he escaped years ago.
“I ran from that, because that is contrary to the human spirit,” Khan said. “But I find it here, right in my backyard.”
Khan’s son, Humayun, was killed in 2004 while serving as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq. A vocal critic of the president, Khan insisted Saturday’s violence only existed on one side of the weekend’s demonstrations, contrary to Trump’s continued assertions that blame rested on “many sides.”
“It wasn’t any other group that raided the sacred grounds of the University of Virginia and threatened the student community,” Khan said, referring to the alt-right torch protest Friday in the shadow of the University’s iconic rotunda. “It wasn’t any other group that ran over the crowd. It wasn’t any other group that carried the weapons in front of the public.”
In an extraordinary news conference at Trump Tower Tuesday, the president offered a vehement defense of scores of conservative protesters, while criticizing counter-protesters.
“What about the alt-left that came charging at the alt-right?” Trump asked. “I’ve condemned Neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. Not all those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people where white supremacists by any stretch.”
The fate of the Charlottesville statue at the epicenter of the controversy, a bronze figure of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, is still far from clear. Its future is tied up in the courts, after the city voted to remove the landmark from Emancipation Park.
As he held his young grandson tight in his living room, Khan said he feared the violence could continue, with the statue serving as a future flashpoint.
“Their permits should be canceled, until they guarantee they will not repeat what has happened in Charlottesville,” Khan said, referring to the groups planning new rallies in defiance. “A morally compromised person will never have the strength to point the finger and say, ‘stop, this is un-American, this is unacceptable.’”
As Charlottesville prepares to hold a memorial service Wednesday for the 32-year-old victim of the attack, Heather D. Heyer, the Gold Star father expressed his heartache towards the feeling of losing a child.
“She was beautiful, and represented the goodness of this nation, a nation that cannot be misdirected,” he said.
But Khan also reflected on the suspect accused of murder, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, who traveled more than 500 miles to attend the rally.
“The gentleman that is locked up, my heart aches for his mother,” Khan said. “What is she going through right now? I wish I had some way to have told him before, ‘you will leave a grieving mother behind. Don’t do this.’”
As he moved to a cabinet to retrieve his now famous pocket constitution, Khan held the booklet, along with a new copy given to him in the Oval Office by President Barack Obama. He echoed his call for President Trump to read his copy, and in his view, guarantee equal justice for all Americans.
“I am concerned that such a morally and legally compromised leader will never rise and shine to the occasion,” Khan said. “He will always have this pattern of behavior, God forbid, if a more serious situation arises.”