President Donald Trump on Monday delivered divisive messages about the shootings at two protests in the past week, split clearly along political lines. He defended the alleged shooter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who has attended a Trump rally and was vocally in support of police, and decried the alleged shooter in Portland, who was reportedly protesting law enforcement and whose identity still has not been confirmed by authorities.
Trump’s remarks at a press conference on Monday come after he has spent weeks seeking to split the nation over the protest movement that started anew after a police officer killed George Floyd in late May and was recently reignited after a police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back in Kenosha. In tweets and at the weeklong Republican National Convention, Trump has sought to paint protesters against systemic racism and police brutality as dangerous radicals in “Democrat-run” cities.
After decrying the shooting in Portland, Oregon, Trump was asked if he would condemn “the actions of vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse,” who is accused of killing two people and injuring a third in Kenosha last week.
Trump ignored the question and claimed Rittenhouse “probably would’ve been killed” if he had acted differently.
“You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from [protesters], I guess, it looks like, and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him,” Trump said. “And it’s something that we are looking at right now, and it’s under investigation, but I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed.”
The police timeline states that one of the shooting victims followed the suspect and threw a plastic bag at him. One video recorded that night shows one of the shooting victims, Joseph Rosenbaum, being shot several times, the criminal complaint states. Rittenhouse is seen looking at Rosenbaum on the ground before running away and saying into a cellphone, “I just killed somebody.”
Lawyers for Rittenhouse have used a similar argument of self-defense.
"This was classic self-defense and we are going to prove it," attorney John Pierce said in a statement to NBC News. "We will obtain justice for Kyle no matter how hard the fight or how long it takes."
Pierce and the suspect’s other attorney, Lin Wood, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
The Kenosha shooting suspect who has been charged with shooting and killing two people is a 17-year-old whose social media activity showed he was an avid Trump supporter obsessed with law enforcement.
Trump was also asked about the events in Portland on Saturday night, when one person was killed in a shooting after pro-Trump demonstrators clashed with anti-racist protesters. Right-wing supporters fired paintball rounds and used bear spray against protesters, who also tossed objects, according to the AP and the New York Times, which had reporters at the scene.
“I understand they had large numbers of people that were supporters, but that was a peaceful protest and paint is a defensive mechanism,” Trump said. “Paint is not bullets.”
Trump also called Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler a “dummy” and a “fool” in tweets on Sunday.
Trump has been elevating the violence in Kenosha and Portland to make his case in his reelection campaign as the candidate who will restore “law and order.” Many speakers during the Republican National Convention capitalized on this year’s protests against anti-Black racism and killings by law enforcement officers. The president alluded to “rioting, looting, arson, and violence” in Kenosha during his RNC speech, but did not provide context: Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a white officer on Sunday night.
Many RNC speakers sought to reframe the current nationwide anger against systemic racial justice and police brutality into a violent visual of “burning cities” and “vengeful mobs” overrunning the streets.