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In Kenosha, Trump blames 'political violence' on 'radical ideology'

Wisconsin officials asked Trump not to visit because he would only further inflame tensions.
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President Donald Trump tours Kenosha, Wis., on Sept. 1, 2020.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Tuesday toured the site of a building that burned during the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and met with local law enforcement officials, a trip meant to underscore his re-election argument that America is under a threat of being overtaken by violent mobs.

"To stop the political violence, we must also confront the radical ideology that includes this violence," Trump said at a roundtable discussion on community safety. "Reckless far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist."

"Actually," Trump continued, "we must give far great support to our law enforcement."

Trump has sought to paint Kenosha and cities like it across the country as beset by violence — though the protests are far more limited and less violent than he has described — and repeatedly warned that if Democrats are elected in November, that violence could spread. His Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, has denounced the violence and accused Trump of inflaming, not calming, the nation's raw racial tensions.

Kenosha is home to the latest wave of protests calling for racial justice after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back at least seven times by a white police officer, leaving him paralyzed. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old, was charged with murder and is accused of fatally shooting two people and wounding a third who were participating in demonstrations.

Trump traveled to the state despite calls from local officials to nix the trip amid criticism that the president is inciting unrest. While speaking, Trump echoed the "law and order" campaign message he delivered at the Republican National Convention.

Trump visited the burned building in Kenosha with Attorney General William Barr and the acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf. The president's public schedule described the stop as a tour of "property affected by recent riots."

The president also toured an Emergency Operations Center, thanking local law enforcement officials and the National Guard.

Ja’Ron Smith and Dan Scavino, assistants to the president, as well as former chief of staff Reince Priebus accompanied Trump to Wisconsin.

Trump did not plan to meet with the Blake family, telling reporters he thought it was better "if it's handled locally."

He told reporters he met with the Blake family's pastor, but Jacob Blake’s father has said they do not have a family pastor.

Throughout his visit, Trump reiterated his interest in sending additional law enforcement personnel to Portland, Oregon, telling reporters "at some point we're going to have to do it." The city has experienced the longest spate of protests, and is where a right-wing supporter was killed this weekend.

On Sunday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, both Democrats, asked the president not to come. In a letter, Evers said Trump's presence in the city would only "hinder our healing" and "delay our work to overcome division and move forward together."

The White House did not budge, saying in a statement that they were "humbled by the outreach of individuals from Kenosha who have welcomed the President's visit and are longing for leadership to support local law enforcement and businesses that have been vandalized."

"I really came today to thank law enforcement," Trump said Tuesday.

Trump's visit to Kenosha comes on the heels of the Republican National Convention, when the GOP used much of the four-day event to paint a grim picture of an America engulfed in chaos and racial unrest. Trump has sought to link cities and states run by Democrats to lawlessness and violence.

Biden accused Trump on Monday of "rooting for more violence, not less," because he thinks it benefits him politically.

Trump declined to condemn the actions of Rittenhouse during a press conference Monday, arguing that the teenager was acting in self-defense.

"He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like," Trump said of Rittenhouse. "I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed."

Rittenhouse appeared to have attended a Trump rally in January, according to a TikTok video associated with him and CSPAN footage of the event.

The president said in an interview Monday with Fox News that the use of force on Blake was like having a bad day on the golf course.

"Shooting the guy in the back many times, I mean, couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him?” Trump said of the incident. “But they choke. Just like in a golf tournament. They miss a three-foot putt.”