President Donald Trump late Monday defended the actions of a 17-year-old vigilante and Trump supporter who was charged with murder last week after killing two people and injuring another with a military-style semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha, Wisconsin during demonstrations over the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
"This is the same guy who called neo-Nazis and white supremacists very fine people. We know exactly where he stands."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal
Asked during a press briefing whether he would condemn the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse—who has been enthusiastically embraced by the right-wing media—after criticizing Democratic nominee Joe Biden for offering a purportedly insufficient denunciation of violence, Trump said "that was an interesting situation" and proceeded to suggest Rittenhouse's shooting of three people was justified on self-defense grounds.
"He was trying to get away from them, I guess; it looks like," the president said. "And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we're looking at right now and it's under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been... he probably would have 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
As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake wrote in a column Monday evening, "it bears noting that there is much we don't know about the Rittenhouse situation."
"Multiple videos show him being chased by demonstrators, though it's not clear what preceded that," wrote Blake. "Prosecutors charged him with two counts of murder and one count of attempted homicide. Trump's comments echoed the defense put forth by the 17-year-old's attorneys, who said he 'did nothing wrong' and 'exercised his God-given, constitutional, common law, and statutory law right to self-defense.'"
"It's one thing to decline to denounce someone more forcefully—particularly when there is an ongoing legal case; it's another to volunteer defenses for them," Blake added. "And for a president who has criticized his opponent for supposedly failing to condemn people on his political side specifically enough, it was instructive that Trump declined to provide a similar statement."
Members of Congress were quick to voice outrage at Trump's remarks, which came just hours before he is expected to visit Kenosha against the wishes of Wisconsin's governor and other officials in the state.
"Trump doesn't condemn it because he incites it," tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "This is the same guy who called neo-Nazis and white supremacists very fine people. We know exactly where he stands."
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said that while the president's decision to defend Rittenhouse was not necessarily surprising, it nonetheless represented "a dark moment for the country."
"It puts the lie to Trump's talk of 'law and order'—his rhetoric incites violence and murder," added Beyer.