Moments after defending violent supporters who fired pepper spray and paintball guns at anti-racist protesters in Portland, Oregon, Donald Trump has claimed that a 17-year-old supporter accused of fatally shooting two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin was “trying to get away” from protesters “and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him”.
He called a caravan of his supporters in Portland – which he falsely claimed is “ablaze all the time” – a “peaceful protest, totally”.
“They had large numbers of people that were supporters, but that was a peaceful protest,” he said at the White House on Monday. “Paint as a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets.”
Earlier on Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that the president is “not going to weigh in” on the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, all with a deadly weapon after allegedly firing a long gun at three protesters, killing two and injuring another.
The president is scheduled to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin on Tuesday following nightly demonstrations against police violence after an officer shot seven rounds into the back of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man who has been left paralysed by the shooting.
But the president has raged on Twitter against Democrats and has promoted right-wing conspiracies after a man linked to a far-right group that has encouraged violence at protests was shot and killed in Portland on Sunday.
His son Donald Trump Jr also shared a Twitter post that said “Kyle Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump.” The president “liked” the post.
Mr Rittenhouse – who has expressed support for the president on his social media pages, including a TikTok from a campaign rally in January – has retained a law firm that previously represented the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
John Pierce said on Thursday he would be joined with a “SEAL team” of defence to “obtain justice” for the Illinois teenager following his arrest. The legal team also will rely on the #FightBack Foundation – an organisation that “takes journalists to court who attack and smear conservatives” – to raise money for his defence.
Asked on Monday evening whether he would be willing to condemn the alleged actions of his supporters, the president said: “We’re looking at all of it. That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw.
“It was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation,” he added. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed. It’s under investigation.”
According to a criminal complaint, Mr Rittenhouse prowled the streets in Kenosha with an AR-15-style rifle on Tuesday before clashing with protesters outside a car dealership, where Joseph Rosenbaum was shot dead.
“I just killed somebody,” Mr Rittenhouse told a friend over a mobile phone before midnight, according to the complaint.
Several people reportedly ran after Mr Rittenhouse after discovering that he had allegedly fired his gun.
According to the complaint, when Anthony Huber – the second person to be shot dead – had reached Mr Rittenhouse, “it appears that he is reaching for the defendant’s gun with his left hand as the skateboard makes contact with the defendant’s left shoulder”.
“The defendant rolls towards his left side and as Huber appears to be trying to grab the gun,” according to the complaint. “The gun is pointed at Huber’s body. The defendant then fires one round … Huber staggers away, taking several steps, then collapses to the ground.”
Video from the scene also appears to show the suspect firing his gun at another man, Gaige Grosskreutz, who was injured.
Mr Rittenhouse left the scene walking past police with his hands above his head.
The president’s remarks from the White House on Monday followed a damning statement from Joe Biden, the president’s Democratic rival, who said that the president had exploited fear and fanned flames of violence in the wake of demonstrations against police brutality.
“This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership,” the former vice president said in a speech from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “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.”