On Monday afternoon, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden addressed unrest in cities like Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon, saying that President Donald Trump “long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country.”
“He can’t stop the violence, because for years he’s fomented it,” Biden added during his speech in Pittsburgh. “You know, he may believe mouthing the words ‘law and order’ makes him strong, but his failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is.”
Within hours, Trump proved Biden right, delivering a press conference in which he stoked unfounded fears about “left-wing political violence” while refusing to condemn right-wing vigilantes — including a 17-year-old supporter of his who has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of two protesters in Kenosha.
The contrast between the two events threw the stakes of the 2020 election into stark relief. On one hand is a challenger who has accurately pointed out that the interlocking crises currently afflicting America have only been exacerbated by the president. On the other is an incumbent president who believes that further inflaming tensions and divisions is his path to victory.
Trump just keeps pouring fuel on the fire
Trump’s news conference and a subsequent interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham in which he pushed nonsensical conspiracy theories about Biden secretly being behind left-wing civil unrest came a day before his planned trip on Tuesday to Kenosha — one he’s making against the wishes of local and state officials, and for the stated purpose of showing support for law enforcement following the shooting of yet another unarmed Black man and then a string of protesters.
REPORTER: Your trip to Kenosha could exacerbate tension and increase violence. Do you give consideration to that?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 31, 2020
TRUMP: Well, it could also increase enthusiasm. It could increase love and respect for our country. pic.twitter.com/pAuYwbhDHl
Kenosha was rocked with protests following the police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake. While video of the incident indicates the force used against Blake was disproportionate, Trump and other White House officials have repeatedly refused to say so.
Amid the protests that erupted in Kenosha following the Blake shooting, the 17-year-old alleged shooter traveled to Wisconsin from Illinois and ultimately shot three protesters last Tuesday, killing two. Videos from the scene appear to show him at one point saying, “I just killed somebody,” and he has been charged with murder and attempted murder.
You might think that condemning this type of vigilante-style violence would be an easy thing for a president to do — but not for Trump. Asked about the case during Monday’s news conference, Trump defended the shooter.
“That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape that I saw, and he was trying to get away [from protesters], I guess, it looks like, and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him,” Trump said. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed.”
Trump defends Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old supporter of his who is charged with murdering two protesters in Kenosha pic.twitter.com/KdfkdTPRVG— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 31, 2020
The Kenosha incident wasn’t the only high-profile case of right-wing violence last week. On Friday, a caravan of Trump supporters descended on downtown Portland, Oregon, where they clashed with protesters. Videos from the scene showed Trump supporters shooting people with paintball guns, macing people, and even driving through crowds in a manner that could have killed people.
Driving through crowds and macing out of vehicles at SW 4th and Washington. pic.twitter.com/dCNJxYlkYn— Cory Elia (@TheRealCoryElia) August 30, 2020
While all this chaos was unfolding, a Trump supporter reportedly named Aaron Danielson was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Portland police say they have no suspect, but that hasn’t stopped Trump for leaping to conclusions that the shooting had a political motive.
During his news conference on Monday, Trump made an evidence-free accusation that left-wing protesters have “killed a lot of people,” and announced that the departments of Homeland Security and Justice are forming a joint operations center to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest.” He refused to condemn supporters of his who were filmed shooting paintball guns and macing people, saying “that was a peaceful protest” and “paint is not bullets.”
REPORTER: Do you want to take this opportunity to condemn your supporters who were shooting paintball guns in Portland?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 31, 2020
TRUMP: These people, they protested peacefully. pic.twitter.com/iaxedScZzz
Later Tuesday night, Trump’s interview with Ingraham began with him claiming that “Portland has been burning for many years, for decades it’s been burning” — a lie that’s obvious to anyone who has spent time in Portland.
Trump won’t even condemn murder if it means distancing himself from his supporters
Not only does Trump habitually refuse to acknowledge that police violence and right-wing violence are problems in the US, but he goes out of his way to justify it.
Asked by Ingraham if he wants his supporters to confront protesters, Trump said, “I want to leave it to law enforcement, but my supporters are wonderful, hardworking, tremendous people, and they turn on their televisions and they look at a Portland or a Kenosha ... they can’t believe it.”
Asked if he wants his supporters to confront protesters, Trump says, "I want to leave it to law enforcement, but my supporters are wonderful, hardworking, tremendous people and they turn on their televisions and they look at a Portland or a Kenosha ... they can't believe it." pic.twitter.com/tlFC1PvOp5— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 1, 2020
The contrast with Biden’s speech is once again instructive. Instead of trying to condone rioters and looters who have damaged property in Kenosha and Portland — groups of people Republicans have linked to Democrats — Biden unequivocally denounced them, saying, “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting ... it’s lawlessness, plain and simple.”