Donald Trump has appeared to defend the teenager accused of killing two protesters with an illegal firearm, suggesting that he acted in self-defence.
The US President said 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse “probably would have been killed” if he hadn’t taken action during the chaotic scenes in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week.
Black Lives Matter demonstrators had taken to the streets following the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake, 29, and clashes with law enforcement and armed vigilantes ensued.
“He was trying to get away from them I guess, it looks like, and he fell, then they very violently attacked him,” Trump said on Monday, referring to Rittenhouse.
“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 have been killed. It’s under investigation,” he added.
The Republican president also failed to condemn his supporters who fired paint pellets during a confrontation with counter-protesters in Portland, Oregon, over the weekend.
During the street clashes on Saturday night, Aaron Danielson, a member of right-wing group Patriot Prayer was shot dead – reportedly by a member of the far-left antifa network.
Trump said he understood it was a “peaceful protest”, adding: “Paint as a defensive mechanism, paint is not bullets.
“Your supporters, and they are your supporters indeed, shot a young gentleman who – and killed him, not with paint, but with a bullet. And I think it’s disgraceful,” he told a CNN reporter.
Trump will visit Kenosha on Tuesday but has no plans to meet with the family of Mr Blake who was shot seven times in the back by police.
The father-of-three was gunned down in front of his kids last Sunday and has been left paralysed from the waist down.
Trump is reportedly opposed to the family’s wishes that attorney Ben Crump, who also represented the family of George Floyd, would be involved in any meeting.
However, Mr Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, told CNN the family did not want to meet the president because he’s a “racist”.
Instead, Trump will visit law enforcement officials, the White House has confirmed.
Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said Trump plans to survey the damage resulting from protests in the aftermath of the shooting and meet with business owners.
He will make the trip despite encouragement from state and local leaders, including Democratic Governor Tony Evers, to forgo travel there while the city seeks to heal.
Among the unauthorised ‘militia’ who took to the streets last Tuesday night, claiming they were helping police defend their city, was Rittenhouse, who traveled from Antioch, Illinois with his AR-15 assault rifle.
The teen fell while running through the street before being struck over the head by protester Anthony Huber with a skateboard.
Rittenhouse is accused of then shooting dead Huber as well as Joseph Rosenbaum and injuring a third.
He was arrested the following day and remains in custody in Illinois but faces extradition to Wisconsin, having been charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one of first-degree attempted himicide.
He also faces a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor.
Rittenhouse’s attorney Lin Wood said her client “had the right to defend himself” after being “attacked”.
Trump, meanwhile, also failed to condemn the vigilantes’ actions, but added police needed to be given “back their dignity” though admitted sometimes “they choke”.
“They have a quarter of a second to make some of these decisions and they make the wrong decision that is very devastating but I will say this, I honor law enforcement.”
Gov Evers has written a letter to the president telling him he is not welcome in Kenosha but Trump told the press briefing his visit will “increase enthusiasm and it could increase love and respect for our country”.
“That’s why I am going because they did a fantastic job,” he continued.
On Monday morning he tweeted without his insistence on having the National Guard respond to demonstrations “there would be no Kenosha right now”.
Wisconsin is a crucial battleground for the elections in November, with Trump having won the state by a point in 2016.
Democratic rival Joe Biden currently leads in state polling by 3.5 points, according to RealClearPolitics.
The former Vice President accused Trump of stoking violence with his rhetoric, while insisting that rioters and looters be prosecuted.
“Tonight, the president declined to rebuke violence. He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others.
“He is too weak,too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it,” Biden said in a statement.
Trump suggested violence would increase if Biden won and accused him of surrendering to a left-wing mob.
“In America, we will never surrender to mob rule, because if the mob rules, democracy is indeed dead,” Trump said.