President Donald Trump Tuesday took his tough law and order message to Kenosha, the latest US city roiled by the police shooting of a black man, as he branded recent anti-racism protests there as “domestic terror” by violent mobs.
Trump has been hoping for months to shift the election battle against Democrat Joe Biden from a verdict on his widely panned handling of the coronavirus pandemic to what he sees as far more comfortable territory of law and order.
And in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha, in upheaval since a white police officer shot 29-year-old African American Jacob Blake in front of his three young sons, the Republican found his mark.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest but really domestic terror,” Trump said after touring damage in the city, describing multiple nights of angry demonstrations last week that left two people dead.
Crowds lined the barricaded streets where the president’s motorcade passed, with Trump supporters on one side and Black Lives Matter protesters on the other, yelling at one another from a distance and in sometimes tense face-to-face encounters.
“Thank you for saving our town,” read the sign of one supporter along the road. “Not my president,” read another.
Under heavy security that blocked off the road, Trump visited a burned out store where he told the owners “we’ll help you rebuild.”
“These gentlemen did a fantastic job,” he said, in reference to law enforcement units that quelled the violent protests.
“This is a great area, a great state,” Trump said, adding later that his administration was committing at least $47 million to Wisconsin law enforcement, small businesses and public safety programs.
“We’ll get Kenosha back in shape,” he said.
Trump suggested in Washington that a meeting with the Blake family was possible during his high-profile trip but it did not materialize.
A microcosm of the racial and ideological tensions of the Trump era, Kenosha has seen Black Lives Matter protests, riots, and the arrival of armed, white vigilantes, culminating in an incident in which a 17-year-old militia enthusiast, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot dead two people and badly injured another.
Democrats and police reform advocates view Kenosha as a symbol of institutional racism.
They see Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, as emblematic of right-wing militias that are increasingly brazen about brandishing weaponry in political settings.
Trump, however, came with a different priority: countering what he has repeatedly described as the “anarchy” in Democratic-led cities.
Trump has refused to condemn the growing presence of armed vigilantes on the streets, calling the alleged killings by Rittenhouse “an interesting situation.”
“We have to condemn the dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” he said at a command center set up in a Kenosha high school.
In an interview Monday Trump likened police officers who err when making split decisions to golfers who “choke” under pressure.
“Shooting the guy in the back many times. I mean, couldn’t you have done something different?” he said. “But they choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt.”
Wisconsin’s governor and Kenosha’s mayor, both Democrats, had urged Trump not to visit but he ignored their pleas — and Biden has accused him of deliberately fomenting violence for political gain.
“We need a president who will lower the temperature and bring the country together — not one who raises it and tears us further apart,” Biden tweeted as the president flew into Kenosha.
Trump for his part accuses Biden of weakness in addressing violent protests in cities like Kenosha and Portland, seeking to paint the Democrat as incapable of controlling the party’s left wing
Trump’s visit came as new protests were planned in Los Angeles following the fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of a black man, identified as 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee, after a violent altercation.
Last week’s unrest in Kenosha rekindled a months-long surge of protest against police violence and racism, unleashed by the death of an unarmed African American, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
But watching from her front porch as police closed nearby streets in Kenosha, resident Nicole Populorum took issue with Trump’s statement that he saved her city from burning down by deploying the National Guard.
“The community came together, so for him to say if it wasn’t for him there would be no Kenosha is ignorant and insulting,” Populorum said.