United States President Donald Trump declined an opportunity to condemn a 17-year-old who killed two people during a protest in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, at a White House press conference on Monday.
Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two men, Anthony Huber, 26, and Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and wounded a third, after attending the demonstration armed with a semiautomatic rifle last Tuesday. Rittenhouse had said he had come to the city to protect businesses from protesters, according to widely circulated mobile phone footage.
When asked if he would condemn Rittenhouse, Trump appeared to blame the victims for “violently” attacking the gunman.
“He was trying to get away from them,” Trump said, and Rittenhouse “fell, and then they very violently attacked him”.
Trump said the incident “was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation but I guess he was in very big trouble he [Rittenhouse] would have been, he probably would have been killed”.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany had said earlier of the incident: “The president is not going to again weigh in on that.”
The statement comes after Trump, on Saturday, dodged a reporter’s question about Rittenhouse, saying the incident was still under investigation.
“We’re looking at it very, very carefully,” the president said.
There have been nightly protests in Kenosha since Blake was shot in the back by police seven times on August 23, leaving him paralysed.
Authorities have maintained he was reaching for a knife when police opened fire in front of Blake’s three children.
Trump has increasingly seized on the country-wide demonstrations, which at times have devolved into violence, in the weeks following the death of George Floyd after a police officer kneeled on his neck on May 25 for nearly nine minutes.
On Sunday, Democratic candidate Joe Biden challenged Trump to “condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right”.
On Monday, Biden said Trump “can’t stop the violence, because for years he’s fomented it”.
“His failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting as an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is,” Biden said while delivering a campaign address in Pennsylvania.
Trump is set to visit Kenosha, where the US National Guard has been deployed, on Tuesday, despite warnings from the state’s governor that the trip would only further agitate the situation.
Trump said he would not be meeting with the Blake family, because they wanted a lawyer involved and he did not think that was “appropriate”.