Donald Trump arrived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday with his attorney general, Bill Barr, in tow.
The president is pushing a “law and order” message as he campaigns for re-election. On his way to the Wisconsin city, which has seen protests over a police shooting of an African American man, he tweeted that he would “thank law enforcement and the national guard for a job well done. The violence stopped six days ago, the moment the guard entered the picture. Thank you!”
On arrival, greeted by the Republican Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson, Trump said: “We’ll have plenty to talk about.”
Before his visit, the president defended a teenager who shot two anti-racism protesters dead in the city last week. He also compared the actions of a white Kenosha police officer who fired seven shots at a black man, hitting him four times in the back, to a golfer choking on a putt.
The Democratic governor of Wisconsin and the mayor of Kenosha both urged Trump to stay away from the city, where many have marched to protest the shooting last month of Jacob Blake by officer Rusten Sheskey. Partially paralyzed, Blake remains in the hospital.
As Trump flew in, reverberations continued from an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Monday night in which he compared Sheskey to a golfer missing a putt.
“Shooting the guy – shooting the guy in the back many times, I mean, couldn’t you have done something different, couldn’t you have wrestled him?” Trump said.
“You know, I mean, in the meantime he might’ve been going for a weapon and you know, there’s a whole big thing there. But they choke. Just like in a golf tournament. They miss a 3ft putt.”
Ingraham, a prominent Trump supporter who spoke at the 2016 Republican convention, cut the president off abruptly.
“You’re not comparing it to golf, because that’s what the media would say,” she said.
“I’m saying people choke,” Trump replied. “People choke.”
Trump did not plan to meet with family members of Blake, whose father Jacob Blake Sr has emerged as a powerful voice for justice in the shooting. Sheskey is on administrative leave and has not been charged with a crime.
“President Trump is a racist who stokes racial tensions,” Justin Blake, the victim’s uncle, told CNN. “He has been stirring racial tensions since he got in the White House. Why, as Jacob’s uncle, would I want to talk to him? Our focus is on Jacob and healing the community.”
Trump planned to “survey damage”, the White House said. But Trump’s critics said he was traveling to Wisconsin in an effort to do more damage, hoping to inflame racial tensions and twist the nature of anti-racism protests in an effort to scare white suburban voters into a stampede in his direction.
In Pittsburgh on Monday, the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, asked: “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected? We need justice in America. We need safety in America. We’re facing multiple crises, crises that, under Donald Trump, have kept multiplying.”
Two days after protests in Kenosha began, the teenager Kyle Rittenhouse came to the scene with a semi-automatic rifle and shot two people dead, prosecutors say. But in remarks at the White House on Monday, Trump refused to condemn the gunman.
“We’re looking at all of it,” he said. “And 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 that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation.”
The first person Rittenhouse killed was shot in the back, prosecutors say. Rittenhouse has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide and reckless homicide.
Wisconsin’s governor, Tony Evers, asked Trump to stay away.
“I am concerned your presence will only hinder our healing,” Evers wrote. “I am concerned your presence will only delay our work to overcome division and move forward together.”
The Kenosha mayor, John Antaramian, said Trump’s timing was wrong.
“It just seemed to me and I think others that it would be better for us to be able to pull together, let the community get together and actually heal up the process of what’s going on,” Antaramian told reporters.
“So it would have been nice if it had waited a while a little longer down the road.”
Trump showed in his interview with Ingraham that his conspiracy-mindedness is not limited to protests. He announced that Biden was being controlled by secret forces and that the federal government was investigating a plane “almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear”.
Trump appeared to be riffing on a viral Facebook post from 1 June that falsely claimed a group of men in black attire – associated with the anti-fascist movement – flew from Seattle, Washington, to Boise, Idaho, NBC News reported. Nothing about the Facebook post was true, but the president made it the centerpiece of wild accusations about his political opponent.
“He’s not controlling anything,” Trump said of Biden. “They control ...”
”Who do you think is pulling Biden’s strings?” Ingraham asked. “Is it former Obama people?”
Trump said it was “People that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows, people that are –”
Ingraham interjected, asking: “What does that mean? That sounds like a conspiracy theory. Dark shadows. What is that?”
“People that you haven’t heard of,” Trump said. “They’re, they’re people that are on the streets, they’re people that are controlling the streets. We had somebody get on a plane from a certain city this weekend, and in the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs, wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear, and this and that. They’re on a plane –”
Ingraham interjected again, asking: “Where was this?”
“I’ll tell you some time,” Trump said. “But it’s under investigation right now.”