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Monday, August 31, 2020

Trump defends gunman charged with murdering 2 in Kenosha

President Donald Trump on Monday portrayed the gunman charged with murdering two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., as a victim, suggesting that the Illinois teenager was acting in self-defense.

Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, was arrested last week and charged with two counts of first-degree murder for shooting during an anti-racist protest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Video of Rittenhouse at the protests showed him carrying an assault rifle and running toward officers with his hands raised, but the police did not appear to engage with him. He was taken into custody the following day.

The criminal complaint against Rittenhouse said he shot a man, Joseph Rosenbaum, after Rosenbaum threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse and tried to grab his gun. Rittenhouse was later heard calling someone and saying, “I just killed somebody,” according to the criminal complaint. A group of protesters chased after Rittenhouse, yelling that he had shot someone.

But speaking at a White House news conference on Monday, Trump suggested that the protesters were the instigators, out to get Rittenhouse, and that he was acting in self-defense.

“That was an interesting situation,” the president said. “He was trying to get away from them, I guess it looks like, and he fell and then they very violently attacked him, and 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.”

The White House has so far avoided commenting on Rittenhouse, saying that there is not enough information on his case. Trump has focused instead on criticizing anti-racist protesters and Democrats for not condemning looting and rioting, even after Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, vehemently condemned rioting and looting in addresses last week and again on Monday.

Trump’s opting to give the benefit of the doubt to Rittenhouse comes in stark contrast to his unilateral condemnation of protesters against police violence who have demonstrated in cities across the country. During his Monday news briefing, Trump condemned the fatal shooting of a man suspected to be a supporter of a right-wing group in Portland, Ore., as MAGA demonstraters and anti-racist protesters faced off in tense clashes.

Trump plans to travel to Kenosha on Tuesday as protests continue to grip the city for a second week. State and local officials have urged Trump not to visit, fearing the president’s presence would disrupt an already-tense city.

Trump said on Monday that he did not plan to visit Blake’s family while in Kenosha. He said the family wanted to speak with him only with lawyers present, something that Trump said would have been “inappropriate.” The president said he had spoken with Blake’s pastor, whom he called a “wonderful man.”

Speaking on CNN after Trump’s news briefing, Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., responded to the president’s remarks by saying: “I’m not going to play politics. This is my son’s life we’re talking about.”

"I just put my 20-year-old son in the hospital because he's suffering from depression, and it's saddening to me that people don't understand the type of pressure this family is under," he said. "And what the rest of the family is dealing with."

He added, “We don’t have a family pastor.”

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