Ahead of his trip to Wisconsin, President Trump embraced the claim that the teenager accused of fatally shooting two protesters and injuring another in Kenosha last week was acting in self-defense – as he tore into Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and other Democrats and accused them of stoking “left-wing political violence.”
During a White House press briefing, Trump appeared to support the claim that 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense. He said the teenager tripped and that “he probably would have been killed” if he hadn’t use used his weapon.
“He was in very big trouble,” Trump said. “He probably would have been killed.”
Also on Monday, the president also sought to tie Biden and the Democrats to the unrest across the country amid protests over racial injustice and police brutality, noting that the unrest is happening in "Democrat-run cities."
“The violence is fueled by the rhetoric of far-left politicians,” Trump said. “The rioters and Joe Biden have a side, and they’re both on the side of the radical left.”
Biden released a statement after the press conference slamming Trump over his comments on Rittenhouse.
“Tonight, the president declined to rebuke violence," the former vice president said. "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’s comments come a day before he is expected to travel to Kenosha, Wis., a city that is reeling from protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times in the back after police responded to a call about a domestic dispute and the shootings of protesters.
Demonstrators are calling for the Officer Rusten Sheskey who shot Blake to be fired and face attempted murder charges. Blake was paralyzed from the waist down because of the shooting.
Blake's shooting has ignited new demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality months after George Floyd’s death while being detained by Minneapolis police officers touched off a wider reckoning on race.
The mayor of Kenosha and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said they believe Trump's visit comes at a bad time. Evers sent Trump a letter urging him not to come, saying the visit “will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Trump will not be meeting with Blake’s family during his trip to Kenosha because the family’s lawyer wanted to be on the phone and the president “didn’t think that was appropriate.” The Blake family's legal team confirmed that in a statement Monday night.
The president and other Republicans have sought to heap the blame for the violence and turmoil in cites on far-left groups like Antifa and have attempted to tie Biden in with the more radical wing of the Democratic Party amid the unrest.
Trump added on Monday that Biden would “give Antifa what they want” should he be elected.
When asked about the violence over the weekend in Portland, Ore., where one supporter of the president was shot and killed after a large caravan of Trump followers and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed in the streets, Trump insisted his supporters “were there for a peaceful protest.”
Videos taken before the shooting show people squaring off for fistfights and Trump supporters firing bear spray and paintballs at counterprotesters, who in return throw objects at the trucks and attempt to block their progress by standing in intersections.
Trump also refused to condemn the violence and unrest caused by the scuffles between his supporters and counterprotesters when questioned by a reporter, arguing that “paint is not bullets” and that it is “a defensive mechanism."
The president’s comments come just hours after Biden accused Trump of “poisoning” the nation’s values, while he condemned the violence at recent protests Monday and blamed Trump as the battle over who's to blame.
Biden, in his most direct attacks yet, accused Trump of causing the divisions that have ignited the violence, delivering an uncharacteristically blistering speech in Pittsburgh and distancing himself from radical forces involved in altercations.
He 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.”
Biden also accused Trump of being too “weak” to call on his own supporters to stop acting as “armed militia.” And he leaned on his own 47-year career in politics to defend himself against Republican attacks.
“You know me. You know my heart. You know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.