Hours after election rival Joe Biden denounced violence and destruction during protests and laid the blame of national unrest with Donald Trump, the president declined to condemn the actions of a teenager accused of killing two others at a Wisconsin demonstration last week.
On Monday, Trump, 74, cautiously spoke to reporters about the Kenosha shooting deaths of two men — Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36 — who were protesting in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot seven times in the back in front of his three children, according to his family.
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Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who had traveled to Kenosha from a nearby Illinois town, has been taken into custody and charged with first-degree intentional homicide and other crimes in connection with the Aug. 25 shooting, which left one other person injured.
Rittenhouse’s lawyer argued on Fox News that he acted “100 percent in self-defense,” while various video clips from the night of the shooting show a chaotic scene and critics say the armed teen knowingly inflamed the situation.
During a press conference on Monday, a reporter asked Trump if he’d like to speak out against the violence of Rittenhouse and other “vigilantes,” to which he responded: “We’re looking at all of it. That was an interesting situation.”
Trump claimed that Rittenhouse “was trying to get away from them, I guess” when he fell and “they very violently attacked him.” Added the president, “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed. But it’s under investigation.”
When asked whether private citizens should take such confrontations into their own hands, Trump said everything “should be taken care of by law enforcement.”
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President Donald Trump speaking during a press briefing at the White House in July
Alex Wong/Getty Images
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The violence followed Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ declaration of a state of emergency and an increased deployment of the Wisconsin National Guard amid ongoing protests across the state that followed Blake’s shooting.
“We cannot forget the reason why these protests began, and what we have seen play out over the last two nights and many nights this year is the pain, anguish, and exhaustion of being Black in our state and country,” Evers said in a statement on Tuesday. “But as I said [Monday], and as I’ll reiterate today, everyone should be able to exercise their fundamental right — whether a protester or member of the press — peacefully and safely.”
In a campaign speech on Monday, former Vice President Biden spoke out against violence and was later criticized by Trump for it. Speaking from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Biden, 77, said he opposes violence “in every form it takes” — including “unwarranted police shootings and excessive force.”
Biden also slammed Trump’s “law and order” refrain, pointing out that the violence the president is promising to end is occurring under his watch.
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“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can’t stop the violence – because for years he has fomented it,” Biden said, echoing a statement he released on Sunday regarding Trump’s response to violence in Portland, Oregon. “He may believe mouthing the words ‘law and order’ makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is.”
“We are facing multiple crises — crises that, under Donald Trump, keep multiplying,” Biden continued. “COVID. Economic devastation. Unwarranted police violence. Emboldened white nationalists. A reckoning on race. Declining faith in a bright American future.”
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During his press conference Monday afternoon, Trump claimed Biden only addressed violence among right-wing extremists.
When asked by a reporter about the violence from Trump supporters in Portland, some of whom were seen shooting paintball guns, the president insisted that they were “peaceful.”