President Donald Trump on Monday pointedly declined to condemn the actions of his supporters in Portland, Oregon, and Wisconsin following a string of violent clashes.
Speaking at the White House, Trump said Kyle Rittenhouse – who faces homicide charges as well as a felony charge for attempted homicide in Kenosha, Wisconsin – “probably would have been killed” had he not acted, claiming that the 17-year-old had been “very violently attacked.”
Trump claimed that video he had seen showed that Rittenhouse “was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like.”
“It’s something that we’re looking at right now, and it’s under investigation, but I guess he was in very big trouble, and he would have been – he probably would have been killed,” he continued, “but it’s under investigation.”
Social media accounts believed to belong to Rittenhouse portray a young White man with an affinity for guns who supports “Blue Lives Matter” and Trump. Asked if he agreed with armed vigilantes like Rittenhouse taking to the streets, Trump said he’d “like to see law enforcement take care of everything,” but didn’t condemn vigilantism.
Trump has embraced a hard-line “law and order” mantle that he believes benefits him politically, even as he confronts a national reckoning over systemic racism in police departments and an outcry over violent police tactics.
The President, who plans to visit Kenosha on Tuesday, then launched into a lengthy defense apparently aimed at police officers, who he says sometimes make mistakes.
“We don’t want to have, when somebody makes a mistake, he chokes, or in some cases you have bad cops, we have to take care of that. In other cases, they choke. They’re under – they have a quarter of a second,” he said.
“A quarter of a second to make a decision, and sometimes they make the wrong decision. If they make the wrong decision, you know, if they make the wrong decision, in the other direction, they’re probably dead.”
He added that “weakness” from Democrats was stopping leaders from putting an end to violence in their cities.
Trump also claimed that his supporters were using paintballs as “a defensive mechanism” when they rolled through the streets of Portland, spraying a form of pepper spray and firing paintballs at protesters over the weekend.
“They had large numbers of people that were supporters, but that was a peaceful protest,” Trump said in a response to a question from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, “and paint is not – and paint as a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets.”
“Your supporters, and they are your supporters indeed,” he continued to Collins, “shot a young gentleman who – and killed him. Not with paint. But with a bullet. And I think it’s disgraceful. These people they protested peacefully.”
The President said his supporters were protesting “when they turn on television or read whatever they may be reading,” and see violence in cities like Chicago or New York.
“Or a city like Portland,” he added, “where the entire city is ablaze all the time. And the mayor says we don’t want any help from the federal government. When these people turn that on and they see that they say this is not our country. This is not our country.”
“That was a peaceful protest, totally,” he added.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden offered a forceful rebuke of Trump’s news conference Monday evening, casting him as “too weak” and “too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.”
“Tonight, the President declined to rebuke violence,” Biden said in a 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.”
Trump discussed civil unrest with Barr and Wolf
Earlier Monday, Trump met with Attorney General William Barr and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to discuss ongoing civil unrest across the country, two senior administration sources told CNN.
One source described the meeting as focusing on “the lawlessness overtaking American cities.”
After meeting with Wolf and Barr, Trump spoke at length about ongoing demonstrations against police brutality across the country, arguing that they were not “peaceful protests.”
Trump said federal law enforcement is working “to comb through hours of video, track down rioters, looters and arsonists and bring them to justice.”
“We’ve just come up with a report that we’ve arrested a large number of people. It’s over 200 and you’ll be hearing about that, but they’ve been arrested in various cities throughout the United States. … They are, in all cases, Democrat-run, but we’re doing the best we can to help them without really much of a consent,” he claimed.
He also said the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are announcing a joint operation “sent in to investigate the violent, left-wing civil unrest.”
Trump claimed that “the violent rioters share (Joe) Biden’s same talking points and they share his same agenda for our nation.”
Mirroring the rhetoric of the Republican National Convention, Trump asserted that “If you give the radical left power, what you’re seeing in the Democrat-run cities will be brought to every city in this country.”
This story has been updated with additional information Monday.