President Donald Trump on Monday declined to condemn an Illinois teen who police say shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week, just minutes after he derided "left-wing political violence" as "terrible" and "out of control."
In a news conference at the White House Monday afternoon, a reporter asked Trump if he would "condemn the actions of vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse."
Rittenhouse is the 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, who was arrested Wednesday and charged with multiple felonies, including first-degree intentional homicide, after police say he shot three people, two fatally, as chaos unfolded in Kenosha the night before.
"We’re looking at all of it," Trump said Monday. "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. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been — I — he probably would have been killed."
A video posted to social media appears to show Rittenhouse seconds after the first of two fatal shootings Tuesday night, carrying a semi-automatic rifle and appearing to say he "just killed somebody" while jogging away from a man who had just been fatally shot in the head. In a separate scene, a group of protesters can be heard following a person who appears to be Rittenhouse down a street while shouting "Why'd you shoot him?"
Moments after, video taken by a photographer at a nearby scene showed an armed Rittenhouse sitting on the ground, opening fire at a crowd around him, shooting another man in the arm. A third man is seen lying on the ground before authorities arrive and carry him away.
Photos that also captured the moments leading up to the second shooting scene appeared to show a man kicking Rittenhouse before another man with a skateboard appears to grab at the teen's weapon. The man with the skateboard appeared to be the same one lying on the ground not moving in the video.
Attorneys representing Rittenhouse said in a statement released Friday night that the teen "did nothing wrong" and acted in self-defense.
Pierce Bainbridge, the law firm representing Rittenhouse, stated that the first shooting occurred as Rittenhouse was confronted by protesters as he guarded an auto shop.
"Upon the sound of a gunshot behind him, Kyle turned and was immediately faced with an attacker lunging towards him and reaching for his rifle," the attorneys said. "He reacted instantaneously and justifiably with his weapon to protect himself, firing and striking the attacker."
Rittenhouse stopped to ensure care for the wounded person, but faced a "growing mob," according to the law firm.
"In fear for his life and concerned the crowd would either continue to shoot at him or even use his own weapon against him, Kyle had no choice but to fire multiple rounds towards his immediate attackers, striking two, including one armed attacker," the statement from the law firm continued.
The lawyers contend the 17-year-old "exercised his God-given, Constitutional, common law and statutory law right to self-defense."
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth on Wednesday confirmed that there were so-called vigilantes or self-proclaimed militia groups in Kenosha during the unrest on Tuesday, one of which asked him to deputize them - to which he said there was "no way" he would do that, discouraging armed civilians from taking to the streets. It's unclear if Rittenhouse was connected to that group.
Before the shootings, the conservative website The Daily Caller conducted a video interview with the suspected gunman in front of a boarded-up business.
“So people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business,” the young man said. “And part of my job is to also help people. If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle -- because I can protect myself, obviously. But I also have my med kit.”
Much of Rittenhouse’s Facebook page - taken down after the shootings - was devoted to praising law enforcement, with references to the Blue Lives Matter movement, which supports police. He routinely posted pictures of himself on social media, including photos with an assault rifle and some with the phrase “Blue Lives Matter” featured prominently.
A video posted to a Tik Tok account purportedly run by Rittenhouse appears to show him sitting in the front row of a rally hosted by Trump earlier this year.
When asked Monday if he believed private citizens should be using guns amid the unrest, Trump responded, "I’d like to see law enforcement take care of everything. I think everything should be taken care of — law enforcement."
Trump declined to condemn the Kenosha shooting just minutes after criticizing "left-wing extremists" and violence "fueled by dangerous rhetoric from far-left politicians," deriding in particular protesters who confronted GOP Sen. Rand Paul after the Republican National Convention in Washington, D.C., on Thursday night as "a disgrace."
Trump also falsely claimed on Monday that his Democratic opponent Joe Biden did not denounce violence "on the left" in his remarks earlier in the day, alleging Biden is "using mafia talking points" in a strategy "to surrender to the left-wing mob."
“I want to make it absolutely clear … rioting is not protesting,” Biden said during a speech in Pittsburgh. “Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple, and those who do it should be prosecuted.”