KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — President Donald Trump dove head-first into the latest eruption in the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice with a trip Tuesday — over the objections of local leaders — to Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has been riven by protests since the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back by police.
While there, he said that “domestic terror” fueled the violence in Kenosha, and declaring it was enabled by Democratic leaders.
While Trump declared the violence “anti-American,” he offered no words for the underlying cause of the anger and protests — accusations of police violence against Black men — and did not mention Jacob Blake, who was badly wounded last week in Kenosha.
Soon after arriving in the city, Trump toured the charred remains of a block besieged by violence and fire. With the scent of smoke still in the air, he spoke to the owners of a century-old store that had been destroyed and continued to link the violence to the Democrats, blaming those in charge of Kenosha and Wisconsin while raising apocalyptic warnings if their party should capture the White House.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest but, really, domestic terror,” said Trump. And he condemned Democrats for not immediately accepting his offer of federal assistance, claiming “They just don’t want us to come, These governors don’t want to call, and the mayors don’t want to call. They have to ask.”
Trump has defended a teenage supporter accused of fatally shooting two men in Kenosha last week and accused the former vice president of siding with “anarchists” and “rioters.”
Trump’s motorcade passed throngs of demonstrators, some holding American flags in support of the president, others jeering while carrying signs that read Black Lives Matter. A massive police presence, complete with several armored vehicles, secured the area, and barricades were set up along several of the city’s major thoroughfares to keep onlookers at a distance from the passing presidential vehicles.
Offering federal resources to help rebuild the city, Trump toured a high school that had been transformed into a law enforcement command post. He said he tried to call the Blake’s mother but opted against it after the family asked that a lawyer listen in.
He later added he felt “terribly” for anyone who suffered a loss, but otherwise only noted that the situation was “complicated” and “under investigation.” The only words acknowledging the suffering of African Americans came from a pastor who attended the law enforcement roundtable.
Pressed by reporters, Trump repeatedly pivoted away from assessing any sort of structural racism in the nation or its police departments, instead blasting what he saw as anti-police rhetoric. Painting a dark portrait of parts of the nation he leads, the president again linked the radical forces he blamed for the violence to the Democrats and their presidential nominee, Joe Biden, declaring that chaos could soon descend on other cities across America.
Trump condemned unrest in Portland, Oregon, too — as well as an increase in shootings in cities including Chicago and New York — and tried to take credit for stopping the violence in Kenosha with the National Guard. But it was Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who deployed the Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, and he had pleaded with Trump to stay away for fear of straining tensions further.
Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, who deployed the National Guard to quell demonstrations in response to the Blake shooting, pleaded with Trump yesterday to stay away for fear of straining tensions further. The White House said the president was expected to meet with law enforcement and tour “property affected by recent riots.”
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing. I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together,” Evers wrote in a letter to Trump.
Trump insisted his appearance could “increase enthusiasm” in Wisconsin, perhaps the most hotly contested battleground state in the presidential race, as the White House said he “wants to visit hurting Americans.” He was expected to take credit for calling in the National Guard — an act taken by Evers — and for surging federal law enforcement to the city to restore the peace. The White House said Trump was not going to meet with Blake’s family.
“I am a tremendous fan of law enforcement and I want to thank law enforcement,” Trump told Fox News in an interview Monday night. “They’ve done a good job.”
Trump suggested that some police officers “choke” when faced with challenging situations and compared them to golfers who “miss a 3-foot putt.”
Biden, in his most direct attacks yet, accused Trump earlier Monday of causing the divisions that have ignited the violence. He delivered an uncharacteristically blistering speech in Pittsburgh and distanced himself from radical forces involved in altercations.
Biden said of Trump: “He doesn’t want to shed light, he wants to generate heat, and he’s stoking violence in our cities. He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
Trump, for his part, reiterated that he blames radical troublemakers stirred up and backed by Biden. But when he was asked about one of his own supporters who was charged with killing two men during the mayhem in Kenosha, Trump declined to denounce the killings and suggested that the 17-year-old suspect, Kyle Rittenhouse, was acting in self-defense.
After a confrontation in which he fatally shot one man, police say, Rittenhouse fell while being chased by people trying to disarm him. A second person was shot and killed.
“That was an interesting situation,” Trump said Monday during a news conference Monday. “He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like, and he fell. And then they very violently attacked him. … He was in very big trouble. He would have been — you probably would’ve been killed.”
Trump and his campaign team have seized upon the unrest in Kenosha, as well as in Portland, Oregon, where a Trump supporter was shot and killed, leaning hard into a defense of law and order while suggesting that Biden is beholden to extremists. Trump aides believe that tough-on-crime stance will help him with voters and that the more the national discourse is about anything other than the coronavirus, the better it is for the president.
In the interview with Fox, Trump insisted that if he were not president, “you would have riots like you’ve never seen.”
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