Emily Goodin et al., Daily Mail, September 1, 2020
President Donald Trump toured the violence-ravaged Kenosha, Wisconsin Tuesday and called rioters ‘domestic terrorists’ while praising police, who he argued shouldn’t be demonized for ‘choking.’
Trump didn’t mention Jacob Blake by name during his scripted remarks.
Blake, a black man, was shot seven times in the back by a white cop in front of his three young children a week ago Sunday afternoon, leaving the father-of-six paralyzed from the waist down. The incident sparked several nights of protests and then violence in the Wisconsin city.
Trump arrived Tuesday afternoon and walked through the rubble that had once been a camera store and an office furniture shop, before giving remarks at a roundtalbe on ‘Wisconsin Community Safety.’
‘These are not peaceful protests but domestic terror,’ Trump said, seated alongside Attorney General Bill Barr, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and local officials including Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth.
Beth has been scrutinized in the wake of police shooting Blake for statements he’s made about black people in the past.
‘The vast and overwhelming majority of police officers are honorable, courageous and devoted public servants,’ Trump said. ‘They’re incredible, yet many politicians ignore their sacrifice and ignore the African-American, Hispanic-American victims,’ the president continued, speaking of crime victims of color, not those who have been unarmed and shot by officers, which have inspired weeks of Black Lives Matter protests.
When asked specifically about Blake being shot Trump responded, ‘I feel terrible for anybody who goes through that.’ He added that it’s a ‘complicated subject.’
Vouching for police officers Trump explained, ‘you have people who choke.’
‘And if they make a wrong decision one way or the other, they’re either dead or they’re in big trouble,’ Trump continued. ‘And people have to understand that. They choke sometimes. And it’s a very tough situation.’
The president suggested that the police involved in the shootings and killings of unarmed black people amounted to some ‘bad apples.’
Trump pooh-poohed a reporter’s question about whether he believed systemic racism existed, which has been the main theme of the Black Lives Matter movement.
‘You just keep getting back to the opposite subject,’ Trump said. ‘We should talk about the kind of violence we’ve seen in Portland and here and other places, it’s tremendous violence.’
‘This is what this is all about,’ Trump said.
He laughed off the idea that most of the Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceable, pointing to the rubble he had just observed.
‘I keep hearing about peaceful protests … and then I come to an area like this and the town is burned down,’ Trump said, sassing at reporters in the room for covering the protests like that. ‘By and large this is not peaceful protesting,’ he later added.
State and local officials had asked Trump not to come to Kenosha, in case his appearance sparked more confrontations – but Wisconsin is a key swing state in the November presidential election.
Since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, Trump has made clear he stands with law enforcement and his Tuesday trip to Kenosha reinforced that.
‘We must also confront the radical ideology that includes this violence, reckless far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist,’ Trump said at one point during the trip.
During the drive between the Illinois airport Air Force One touched down at and the Wisconsin city, Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter activists lined the road.
A large group of protesters had also staked out an area close to the property Trump was touring and greeted the president with middle fingers.
‘There was love on the streets, I can tell you,’ Trump later said. ‘When we were coming in, it was love in the streets.’
Trump was shouted down by Black Lives protesters.
‘Justice for Jacob Blake, not fascist police state!’ they said. ‘Trump-Pence out now!’
John S., 22-year-old packing a 9 millimeter handgun in his waistband, cheers ‘four more years,’ as Trump passed him by. He also came out to defend 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was accused of fatally shooting two protesters and injuring a third.
‘He had no choice but to defend himself,’ John told DailyMail.com.
Dan Cox, 56, who drove in from Illinois to see Trump, called Rittenhouse a hero.
‘The governor and mayor failed to protect citizens and it was left to a 17-year-old to come out and defend this community,’ he said, standing in front of a used car dealership littered with dozens of cars that were torched in riots last week. ‘In my opinion, he’s the hero of Kenosha.’
Kendra, 18, waving a BLM sign stating , ‘Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere,’ said the president was not interested in healing the community.
‘Trump is here for the wrong reasons,’ she said. ‘He’s not here because he cares. He’s here to fan the flames of hatred to rally his base.’
Trump notably avoided visiting the neighborhood a few miles away where Blake was shot by a police officer.
Blake’s family and activists hosted a ‘Justice for Jacob’ rally at the site during Trump’s visit, attended by a noticeably frail Rev. Jesse Jackson and including a community clean-up and voter registration booth.
‘We don’t need more pain and division from a president set on advancing his campaign at the expense of our city,’ said Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake. ‘We need justice and relief for our community.’
The father of Blake said before the president’s arrival that he would not meet with Trump because ‘I don’t want to play politics.’
Jacob Blake Sr spoke out after the president declined to meet with the Blake family if lawyers were involved, which Trump labeled ‘inappropriate.’
Asked about Trump’s response, Blake Sr said: ‘I’m not getting into politics. It’s all about my son, man. It has nothing to do with a photo-op.’
Kenosha remains under a 7 p.m. curfew with more than 1,500 National Guard members on the scene.
But Blake’s shooting and the demonstrations prompted self-styled militia men to take to the streets with their own weapons because they don’t trust the police to keep the city safe.
Among those vigilantes on Tuesday night was 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teenager who’d come from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to patrol the streets with an AR-15. It is illegal for someone under 18 to openly carry a weapon in Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse was part of a group of armed civilians protecting a service station in Kenosha.
There was a scuffle between them and the protesters. Shots were fired and 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum falls to the ground with a gunshot wound to the head that would be fatal.
Video posted on social media shows a man whom police believe to be Rittenhouse make a call on a cellphone and say: ‘I just shot someone.’
He flees and is pursued by many protesters, at least one of whom is armed with a handgun. Rittenhouse falls to the ground and the crowd rushes in to seize his weapon.
He was hit over the head by protester Anthony Huber, 26, who had a skateboard and wanted to disarm him.
Rittenhouse then starts firing into the group and ended up killing Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz.
He was not arrested until the following day, back in Illinois, despite approaching police with his hands in the air while other protesters yelled that he’d just shot multiple people.
He is in custody in Illinois. A judge will decide at a hearing on Sept. 25 whether Rittenhouse will be extradited to Wisconsin, where he would be tried as an adult. He faces six felony charges that include first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide, and a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor.
Rittenhouse’s attorney Lin Wood said the 17-year-old vigilante was ‘attacked’ with ‘lethal force’ and ‘had the right to defend himself.’
Another one of his attorneys, John Pierce, praised the teen in an appearance on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, saying he was only defending himself against a mob trying to disarm and hurt him.
‘This is 100 percent self defense,’ Pierce said.
‘The only individuals Kyle shot were the three individuals attacking him and putting him at risk. This is a 17-year-old kid, this is amazing what he did.’
Rittenhouse, who lives in a nearby Illinois town, had traveled to Kenosha to help protect businesses from being torched or looted amid the Blake protests, according to his lawyer.
In addition to his AR-15-style rifle, Rittenhouse’s lawyer said the teenager also had had a first aid kit with him to help treat injured protesters.
Pierce said the incident escalated when a shot was fired as Rittenhouse tried to retreat from a group of protesters who, he claims, became enraged that the teen was trying to put out fires.
‘They began screaming that Kyle needed to be killed and they were going to kill him. They started relentlessly hunting him as prey as he ran down the street attempting to retreat,’ Pierce said.
‘Mr Rosenbaum, who was leading the attack on him, set upon him immediately… began to assault him from behind, attempted to take his weapon, take his firearm, and Kyle, when he turned, he instantaneously had no choice but to defend himself by firing because he was in imminent danger of serious bodily harm or death.’
Pierce denied that Rittenhouse brought the AR-15 across state lines from Illinois to Wisconsin.
‘That firearm never crossed state lines. It is a legal firearm in Wisconsin,’ Pierce said, adding they would be arguing it is within his second amendment rights.
On Monday, Trump defended the actions of Rittenhouse saying he ‘probably would have been killed’ by an angry mob if he hadn’t fired at them with the illegal gun he was carrying.
‘He was trying to get away from them I guess, it looks like, and he fell on then they very violently attacked him,’ Trump said in response to a question from DailyMail.com on Monday.
‘It was 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. It’s under investigation,’ he added during his press briefing.
The president also refused to condemn vigilantes when pressed on the self-styled militia by DailyMail.com.
‘I think everything should be taken care of with law enforcement but we have to give our cops back, our police back their dignity,’ he said.
He defended the actions of police, saying sometimes they make a mistake – ‘they choke’ – and that decision gets played over and over again on the evening news.
‘You have bad cops – we have to take care of them. In other cases, they choke,’ he said. ‘They have a quarter of a second to make a decision and sometimes they make the wrong decision. They make the wrong decision, you know if they make a wrong decision and the other direction, they’re probably dead so they choke and that goes on the evening news for weeks.’
‘They are very tough on bad cops but sometimes, a cop or a police person who was a good police person, right? Good. But they choke,’ he added. ‘They have a quarter of a second to make some of these decisions and they make the wrong decision that is very devastating but I will say this, I honor law enforcement. We wouldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for law enforcement.’
Meanwhile, outrage has built nationwide over the different treatment by cops of Rittenhouse, the white armed teen compared to their treatment of black unarmed Blake.
Trump said he was going to Kenosha on Tuesday despite pleas from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin that he stay away. Evers warned it could heighten tensions and increase violence in the town of 100,000 which has seen its ranks swell with supporters of the Black Lives Matters movement and armed civilian vigilantes.
‘It will also increase enthusiasm and it could increase love and respect for our country, and that’s why I am going because they did a fantastic job,’ Trump said at his press briefing on Monday.
Evers, a Democrat, said Sunday in a letter to President Trump that he is not welcome in Kenosha.
He urged him to reconsider his trip, writing: ‘I, along with other community leaders who have reached out, are concerned about what your presence will mean for Kenosha and our state.’
Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, also a Democrat, also asked Trump not to come.
‘While presidents are always welcome to come to this great city, this is not the best time for a visit,’ Antaramian said in a statement Sunday. ‘We are hurting today and we are focused on healing, coming together as a community and rebuilding. There is a lot of listening we need to do in Kenosha and I worry that a visit from the president will delay this important work.’
Trump, meanwhile, has insisted his actions ‘saved’ the city of Kenosha.
‘If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now. Also, there would have been great death and injury. I want to thank Law Enforcement and the National Guard. I will see you on Tuesday!,’ he tweeted on Monday morning.
But he will not meet with the family of Jacob Blake, saying he refused to speak to them after they wanted their lawyer involved. The Blakes are represented by attorney Ben Crump, who also represented the family of George Floyd.
Trump did say he’s spoken with the Blake family pastor.
‘I thought it would be better not to do anything where there are lawyers involved,’ he said Monday at his press briefing. ‘In they wanted to have lawyers involved and I thought that was inappropriate so I didn’t do that, but I did speak with the pastor.’
Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, told CNN that the family didn’t want to meet with the president because he’s a ‘racist.’
‘President Trump is a racist who stokes racial tensions. He has been stirring racial tensions since he got in the White House. Why, as Jacob’s uncle, would I want to talk to him? Our focus is on Jacob and healing the community,’ he said.
He said Jacob Blake’s father has told him he ‘has no interest in speaking with President Trump.’ His only interest at the moment is his son’s well-being and getting justice.
He said he did not talk to Jacob Blake’s mother on the subject.
Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he hoped to visit Wisconsin soon.
‘I’m checking it out now. We hope to be able to do that,’ he said during a stop in Pittsburgh on Monday.
In his speech earlier that day, Biden went after Trump calling him a ‘toxic presence’ and accused him of ‘stoking violence in our cities’ asking voters, ‘Do you really feel safer under Trump?’ Biden also condemned riots and looting and called on Americans to ‘stand against violence – in every form it takes.’
Wisconsin is a crucial battleground state in November’s election. Trump won it by less than 1 point in 2016 and both candidates want to see it in their column this fall.
Biden currently leads in state polling by 3.5 points in the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Democrats were originally scheduled to hold their national political convention in Wisconsin this summer – with Biden giving his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination there – but they turned the convention into a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic.