It seems that President Trump is intent on digging himself deeper and deeper into a white supremacist hole. At a press briefing on Monday, Trump defended far-right vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse — the 17-year-old who shot and killed two anti-racism protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin — and refused to denounce his actions. He also cited video evidence that doesn’t actually exist, saying Rittenhouse was only acting in self defence, and that he hopes an investigation might clear the shooter of charges.
When asked by a reporter if he would condemn the actions of vigilantes like Rittenhouse, Trump wouldn’t give a straight answer. "We’re looking at all of it. That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw. He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like. He fell, and then they very violently attacked him," Trump said. "I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed.”
What Trump failed to acknowledge is that Rittenhouse, a "Blue Lives Matter" activist who belongs to multiple white supremacist groups, crossed state lines with an illegally possessed weapon in a call to arms. Rittenhouse has been charged with six criminal counts, including first-degree intentional homicide for killing two protesters and injuring another.
Trump also made no mention of protesters trying to defend themselves against the vigilante. On top of that, he then completely pivoted to talking about law enforcement, and how if police officers were able to do their jobs, vigilantes like Rittenhouse would not feel called to step in, doubling down on the narrative that it’s actually protesters’ fault.
“I think everything should be taken care of by law enforcement. But we have to give cops back their dignity. They’re very talented people, they’re strong, they’re tough, they can do the job but we’ve taken it away,” he said, seemingly referring to the demonisation of cops for shooting and killing Black people.
But the president is not the only Republican to defend Rittenhouse or his actions — plenty of people on the right were quick to try to clear the teenager’s name and absolve him of guilt. Republican Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted last week, “100% justified self defense (sic). Do not try to take a weapon away from a man or bear the consequences.” Tucker Carlson also defended the vigilante on Fox News, saying that the teenager “decided to maintain order when no one else would.”
The narrative of Trump and others on the right matches the law and order story that they’ve been pushing, painting Rittenhouse as a hero for trying to quell the protests — which were set off in the first place by police shooting Jacob Blake.
While there are many details still unknown about the situation, it’s clear that by refusing to condemn his actions outright, Trump is sending the message that actions like Rittenhouse’s are justifiable. Today, Trump is traveling to Kenosha to try to “increase love and respect for our country,” despite the fact that the Wisconsin Governor previously said he’d prefer for the president not to come. It seem's Trump is eager to fan the flames, once again, and this time is doing so by defending a shooter.