US President Donald Trump on Monday defended 17-year-old suspected gunman Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been charged in connection with shooting three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin last week, including two who were fatally wounded.
When Trump was asked at a White House press conference if he defended the actions of vigilantes like Rittenhouse, he said the teenager was “violently attacked,” suggesting he acted in self-defense.
“That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like, and he fell and then they very violently attacked him and it was something we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation,” Trump said. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed,” he added.
Rittenhouse, who reportedly supports the pro-police movement Blue Lives Matter, has been charged with two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide after shooting three protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin on Aug. 25, killing two of them.
The shootings took place on the streets of a city that had spent days protesting racial injustice and police violence after Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot in the back by a white police officer seven times.
Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys have said he acted in self-defense, but a complaint filed by Kenosha County prosecutors said he opened fire on unarmed demonstrators.
His arrest came after an individual who may have shot one or all of the victims appeared on cellphone footage that widely circulated on social media.
In it, three gunshots are heard as a young white male with a long barrel rifle runs away from the scene while saying on his cellphone “I just killed somebody.”
A person wearing the same blue pants and green shirt is seen in a separate bystander video being chased by protesters before tripping and opening fire on protesters as they futilely attempt to take away his weapon.
He then gets up and walks away as screams of “medic” are heard in the background before he makes his way to police amid shouts of, “Hey, he just shot them.” Police, however, did not take him into custody.
Rittenhouse was arrested the following day in neighboring Illinois.
The president’s news conference came just hours after Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden accused Trump of fomenting violence at recent protests. Shortly after the president concluded his remarks, Biden slammed Trump for declining “to rebuke violence.”
“He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it,” Biden said on Twitter. “I urge President Trump to join me in saying that while peaceful protest is an important right — violence is wrong. Period. If he can’t say that, then he is unfit to be President.”
During the press briefing, Trump announced that he is not planning on cancelling his visit to Kenosha on Tuesday, ignoring Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who in a Sunday letter urged Trump to cancel the trip, saying the president’s presence “will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
Trump also said he would not meet Blake’s family during his visit to Wisconsin because it would be “inappropriate” to speak with the family’s lawyers.
“I thought it would be better not to do anything where there are lawyers involved,” he said. “They wanted me to speak, but they wanted to have lawyers involved, and I thought that was inappropriate, so I didn’t do that.”
Trump is scheduled to meet with law enforcement and business owners in Kenosha.
*Michael Hernandez contributed to this report from Washington