President Trump spent part of Tuesday afternoon surveying businesses damaged by riots last week in Kenosha, Wis., sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Afterwards, the president spoke at a roundtable where he blasted “looters, rioters” and “really bad people” who had taken part in the demonstrations that turned violent. He also questioned the existence of systemic racism, an issue that has been one of the main drivers behind the recent protests.
“Violent mobs demolished or damaged at least 25 businesses, burned down public buildings and threw bricks at police officers,” Trump said of the events that unfolded in Kenosha. “These are not acts of peaceful protest, but really domestic terror.”
Trump said he worked with local authorities in Kenosha to “very, very swiftly deploy the National Guard” and “surge federal law enforcement” into the city to stop the unrest.
“I strongly support the use of the National Guard in other cities,” Trump said.
The country has been gripped by civil unrest since late May, when a Black man named George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis as a result of an officer holding a knee to his neck for more than eight minutes. In many cities, Black Lives Matter protests erupted, and some have been accompanied by looting and rioting. Kenosha became a focal point of the demonstrations on Aug. 23 when Blake, who is Black, was shot seven times in the back by police in the city as he entered his car.
Trump was joined at the roundtable by local officials who praised his response to the protests in Kenosha, but the reaction to his visit hasn’t been universally supportive. Prior to the president’s trip, the state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, asked him not to come and suggested it could inflame tensions. Kenosha’s Democratic mayor, John Antaramian, also called on Trump to cancel his visit, saying the city needed time to heal.
The president has made the protests — and his calls for an aggressive response to them using federal forces — a major theme of his reelection campaign. He has repeatedly suggested that his election opponent, Joe Biden, is, along with other Democrats, behind the unrest, and he has discounted the premise behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Black Lives Matter is a Marxist organization,” Trump said in a Monday night interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. “The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, I said, ‘That’s a terrible name.’ It’s so discriminatory. It’s bad for Black people. It’s bad for everybody.”
Trump has also linked the demonstrations to rising crime and used these alleged conspiracies to suggest that America would be chaotic under a Biden administration, while he will bring “law and order.”
As he critiqued the protests in Kenosha, Trump also made comments Tuesday suggesting he doesn’t believe there is systemic racism within the country.
“To stop the political violence, we must also confront the radical ideology that includes this violence,” Trump said. “Reckless far-left politicians continue to push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist. They’ll throw out any word that comes to them.”
Following the roundtable, reporters questioned Trump on whether he believes there are systemic issues of racial prejudice within U.S. law enforcement.
“I don’t believe that at all,” he replied. He also reiterated his view that instances of inappropriate police violence are the result of “some bad apples.”
“I think you’d agree every once in a while you’ll see something. And you do have the other situation, too, where they’re under this tremendous pressure and they don’t handle it well. They call it ‘choking,’ and it happens,” Trump said.
Trump was also pressed on whether he believes in the existence of “systemic racism” more generally. He criticized the reporter for bringing up the issue and urged him to focus on the “tremendous violence” taking place along with the protests.
“You just keep getting back to the opposite subject. We should talk about the kind of violence that we’ve seen,” said Trump, later adding, “You may have protesters, but you have some really bad people too. You have anarchists and you have the looters, rioters, you have all types. You have agitators, and that’s what you should be focusing on.”
Within the past week, shootings at protests in Kenosha and in Portland, Ore., have claimed the lives of three people. While the president has decried the violence coming from leftists, he defended a 17-year-old apparent Trump supporter who killed two people in Kenosha on Aug. 25.
Attorney General William Barr, who also attended the roundtable in Kenosha, offered a more detailed assessment of the violence taking place among the protests. He blamed it on “Black Bloc” radicals from around the country who travel to demonstrations “equipped to fight.”
“Violent instigators were coming to Kenosha. They were coming from California, Washington state, a lot from Chicago. … Once again we saw the hijacking of a protest by a hard-core group of radicals who were carrying out, planning a coordinated, violent attack on law enforcement, on public property and on private property,” Barr said. “They use these Black Bloc tactics, throwing projectiles at police and literally trying to inflict injuries on police, arson and rioting.”
Trump said leaders in cities that have violent protests should ask his administration to deploy federal forces.
“We’re ready, willing and able to send in, you know, a massive group of people that are really highly trained,” he said.
Trump seemed particularly eager to send federal forces to Portland, where there have been nightly clashes between leftist protesters, far-right demonstrators and law enforcement since Floyd’s death in late May.
“We could solve that problem in less than an hour in Portland, so I hope they call,” said Trump. “And at some point … we’ll just have to do it ourselves.”
Reporters asked him whether he meant he would send federal forces into cities where they were not requested. Trump suggested he wouldn’t do this, but he blasted the city’s mayor as having “no clue what’s going on.”
“It could be solved in an hour, and we’re tired of watching,” said Trump.
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