Donald Trump issued a wild series of unfounded accusations against his Democratic opponent for president, Joe Biden, accusing the former vice president of appeasing “Antifa” by supporting rioters in major US cities gripped by protests against police brutality.
The way Mr Trump tells it, Mr Biden has ignored “left-wing political violence in Democrat-run cities”, a claim that is categorically untrue.
While Mr Biden has focused his campaign messaging primarily on sympathising with the victims of police shootings and calling for sweeping reforms to the law enforcement system, on Sunday he denounced “violence of every kind by anyone” after one Trump supporter was shot and killed in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday, while others paraded through downtown in their vehicles, some firing paintballs and pepper spray at counter-protesters.
The statement was one of several examples of the vice president condemning violent protests and distancing himself from rioting and looting.
In a speech on Monday in Pittsburgh, Mr Biden rebuked Mr Trump’s “weak” leadership for appearing to exploit for political purposes the racial divisions and distrust between law enforcement and their communities that continue to simmer.
“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership,” the former vice president said. “He cant stop the violence because for years he fomented it. … His failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows you how weak he is.”
Mr Trump responded in kind, criticising Mr Biden at his news conference on Monday for not directly condemning Antifa, the loose collection of anti-fascist, left-wing protesters believed to have instigated rioting and looting at anti-police brutality protests this summer.
“You don’t name it, you don’t solve it,” Mr Trump said of Mr Biden’s not mentioning Antifa during any of his recent speeches, adding that “those on the left are the problem”.
Antifa is not generally regarded as a centralised political organisation or ideology.
Mr Trump speculated during his Monday press conference that Mr Biden shares the same agenda and talking points as the violent Antifa minority who have undermined the message of the millions of otherwise peaceful protesters calling for policing reform in US cities this summer after the shootings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and, most recently, Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Even in his strange speech today that he made in Pittsburgh he didn’t mention the far left or, from what I saw, I don’t believe he mentioned the word Antifa. Antifa is a criminal organisation, and he didn’t mention Antifa thugs, but mostly seemed to blame police and law enforcement,” Mr Trump said.
“He even talked about those on the right, but he didn’t talk about those on the left, and those on the left are the problem, and Antifa’s the problem.”
The president continued: “When you surrender to the mob you don’t get freedom you get fascism. That’s what happens in all cases … Biden is using mafia talking points — the mob will leave you alone if you give them what you want. That’s what it is.”
During the question and answer portion of his news conference, Mr Trump appeared to defend his supporters who were videoed firing paintballs and pepper spray at counter-protesters in Portland at the Trump vehicle parade on Saturday.
“They had large numbers of people that were [Trump] supporters, but that was a peaceful protest,” he said, claiming they were using “paint as a defensive mechanism”.
He added: “Paint is not bullets.”
Mr Trump also panned leftist elements for proposing that prisoners be allowed to cast election ballots.
“If you’re the Boston bomber, they want you to have a vote,” the president said, referring to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Kyrgyzstani man of Chechen descent who has been convicted of setting off bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has advocated for voting rights for prisoners, whereas Mr Biden has proposed restoring voting rights for people who have completed their sentences.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is ramping up its operations to root out the left-wing extremist elements that have overshadowed — in conservative circles, at least — the millions of peaceful demonstrators for policing reform this summer.
The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security are poised to announce a joint operations centre to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest”, Mr Trump told reporters.
That announcement comes on the heels of reports the president and his administration have largely ignored pleas from aides at the DHS to address right-wing domestic terrorism.
The feds have already arrested roughly 200 people in a crackdown on left-wing political violence in “Democrat-run cities,” the president said.
“Federal law enforcement is working with state and local authorities all over the country to comb through hours of video, track down rioters, looters and arsonists, and bring them to justice,” he said.
“We’re doing it very low-key, but we’re trying to help cities. They are in all cases Democrat-run, but we’re doing the best we can to help them without really much of a consent,” he said.
Mr Rittenhouse was “trying to get away” from protesters, “and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him,” Mr Trump said.