President Donald Trump jumped to the defense Monday of the Midwestern teenager who has been charged with the murder of two protesters following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“We’re looking at all of it,” Trump said during a press conference Monday when asked by a reporter if he would “condemn the actions of vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse.”
“That was an interesting situation,” Trump said. “You saw the same tape as I saw and he was trying to get away from them, I guess, looks like. And he fell and then they very violently attacked him and it was something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation.”
“Trump went on to say, “I guess he was in very big trouble,” adding that “he probably would have been killed but it’s under investigation.”
The 17-year-old Rittenhouse has been charged with murder for allegedly killing two protesters, as The Daily Beast previously reported.
The incident last Tuesday came after protests broke out in Kenosha following the police shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black man. Widely circulated video showed Blake being shot repeatedly in the back by a law enforcement official after he walked away from police and went to enter a vehicle.
Trump’s comments came just hours after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gave a stinging speech focusing on Trump’s role in the unrest that has developed during his presidency.
“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country,” Biden said. “He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
In a statement following Trump’s press conference, Biden kept up the attack.
“Tonight, the President declined to rebuke violence,” Biden said in the statement. “He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.”
The back and forth between the two presidential contenders came after both political parties held their respective conventions. Democrats were clear about the threat they feel Trump poses to the nation’s Democratic principles, while Republicans painted a dystopian picture of what they tried to convince voters the country would look like if Trump loses.
Trump also used Monday’s news conference to defend a group of pro-Trump demonstrators who drove a caravan into downtown Portland over the weekend to counter anti-racism protesters there. Members of the caravan were caught on video spraying crowds with paintballs and pepper spray. One individual, who was identified by fellow members of the pro-Trump crowd as a “friend” of the far-right group Patriot Prayer, was fatally shot.
Asked about the alleged provocations the pro-Trump caravan had caused, Trump was equally dismissive.
“That was a peaceful protest,” he said. “Paint is not bullets.”
Growing tensions and the threat of political violence only became more apparent after Trump gave his renomination speech last Thursday at the White House. After the speech, a Trump ally allegedly punched a critic of the president’s in the head, The Daily Beast reported earlier Monday, while a video showing Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) being taunted by protesters as he left the White House circulated on social media. Another video showed New Hampshire’s national GOP committeeman being screamed at by a protester.
Trump is scheduled to travel to Kenosha Tuesday. When a reporter asked about the Wisconsin governor and Kenosha mayor preferring that the president not visit and the worry that it could further escalate the situation, Trump downplayed the concern.
“Well, it could also increase enthusiasm,” Trump said. “And it could increase love and respect for our country.”
—With additional reporting from Sam Stein, Hanna Trudo, and Will Sommer