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South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham calls for Trump to 'come down like a hammer' on white supremacists

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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is surrounded by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, July 27, 2017. File/J. Scott Applewhite/AP

COLUMBIA — After criticizing President Donald Trump's initial response to a violent demonstration by white supremacists in Virginia, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham urged the administration Tuesday to step up its efforts to subdue racist groups.

The South Carolina Republican called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go to Virginia and "personally handle domestic terrorism investigations" and alleged civil rights abuses by the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis "who took this young woman's life."

Graham was referring to Heather Heyer, 32, who was killed when a car ran into a group of counter-protesters Saturday in Charlottesville where white supremacists and neo-Nazis were holding a "Unite the Right" rally. Many more were injured.

Graham additionally proposed the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security form a task force on the threat of white supremacist groups and report back to Congress with potential solutions for cracking down on them.

"This is an opportunity for the Trump administration to come down like a hammer on white supremacists," Graham said during a news conference in his Columbia office. "And I hope they do."

Trump was widely criticized in his first statement Saturday on the rioting in Charlottesville when he condemned violence "on all sides." Graham called those first remarks "inappropriate."

Graham approved of Trump's more specific denunciation of white nationalist groups that came Monday.

"What [Trump] said yesterday was very strong and very good, but it needs to be followed up with action," Graham said.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said Monday he too appreciated Trump's second remarks on Charlottesville but added they "would have been more impactful on Saturday."

Graham pointed to Scott, the only African-American Republican currently serving in the U.S. Senate, as an indication of the racial progress the country has made.

"At the end of the day, America is changing and South Carolina is changing for the better," Graham said. "Don't let these people drag us back into the darkness."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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