A man whose hat bore the insignia of a far-right group called Patriot Prayer was fatally shot late Saturday during a clash between Trump supporters and counter-protesters, capping a violent week in America that began with a white police officer shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times in Kenosha, Wis., last Sunday. Two days later, a white teenager from Illinois allegedly shot three people in Kenosha, killing two of them.
Protests have occurred for more than 90 consecutive days in Portland since George Floyd, another Black man, was killed by the police in Minneapolis in May. Portland police have yet to release details of the man who was killed over the weekend or any information about the suspected gunman.
On Sunday afternoon, Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, held a news conference to denounce the violence, pledging that the shooter would be arrested and prosecuted. He asked the community to “pull together in the name of peace and humanity,” and castigated Trump for language and actions that he blamed for sparking conflict.
“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?“ Wheeler said. “It’s you who have created the hate and the division. It’s you who have not found a way to say the names of Black people killed by police officers, even as people in law enforcement have, and it‘s you who claimed that white supremacists are good people. Your campaign of fear is as anti-democratic as anything you have done to create hate and vitriol in our beautiful country.“
Trump for weeks has painted Portland as a city whose leaders can’t control its citizens or prevent protesters from destroying it. The president has sent federal agents there to protect government property and control “anarchists and agitators,” elevating confrontations between protesters and law enforcement as he calls for law and order.
That message was widespread at last week’s Republican National Convention, where supporters warned of cities being overrun by violent mobs on the radical left. With the coronavirus pandemic killing more than 180,000 Americans and battering the economy, Republicans are trying to make safety a key campaign issue amid a national reckoning on race relations, driving their message of law and order as Democrats emphasize the need for police reform to halt the killings of unarmed Black people.
Trump tweeted on Saturday that “Kenosha has been very quiet” since the National Guard entered the city, indicating the same would be true of Portland if its leaders accepted the administration’s assistance.
“Our great National Guard could solve these problems in less than 1 hour,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. “Local authorities must ask before it is too late.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the administration was waiting for the investigation of the Portland shooting to play out, but he also suggested that the killing pointed to the larger issue of state and local officials “not allowing law enforcement to do their job and really to bring this violent activity night after night after night to a close.”
“As you see that continue to unfold over the course of three months, you are going to continue to see violent activity,” Wolf predicted on ABC. The administration is “happy to provide resources to bring this violence to an end, violence that, again, across the ideological spectrum, left or right, the violence needs to end.”
Trump will travel to Kenosha on Tuesday to meet with local law enforcement. Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and a senior campaign adviser, said the president had reached out to Blake’s family, but it is unclear whether they will meet this week.
“I’m sure, given the opportunity, he would be more than happy to do that,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But I haven’t gotten that information just yet.”
Despite outgoing White House counselor Kellyanne Conway telling Fox News last week that more chaos, anarchy, violence and vandalism were “better” for the president’s campaign, Lara Trump said that violence was “never something any of us would want to see happen.”
Recalling what she described as an “anarchist mob” that encircled Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his wife outside of the White House after the president’s nomination acceptance speech Thursday, Lara Trump said, “You didn’t see that happening on the other side,” because “that would never happen.”
“It only goes one way,” she added.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said Kenosha shouldn’t be used as a way to campaign.
“I think his visit has one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to agitate things and to make things worse,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “What also happened in Portland, too, you saw a parade of Trump supporters actually actively shooting paintballs at peaceful protesters. And the president, in my opinion, encourages that. He actually retweeted the people firing paint guns. So, I think he only means to agitate things. He is campaigning.”
Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, is planning to address the nation this week in a unifying speech that will showcase his leadership, according to his campaign, but it is unclear whether he will travel to Wisconsin.
On Sunday afternoon he denounced the Portland shooting and, more broadly, the violence stemming from recent protests. He also called on Trump to take a similar stance.
“The deadly violence we saw overnight in Portland is unacceptable,” Biden said in a written statement. “Shooting in the streets of a great American city is unacceptable. I condemn this violence unequivocally. I condemn violence of every kind by any one, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same.“
Biden called for unity and, like his allies, blamed Trump for encouraging division.
“We must not become a country at war with ourselves,” Biden said in his statement. “A country that accepts the killing of fellow Americans who do not agree with you. A country that vows vengeance toward one another. But that is the America that President Trump wants us to be, the America he believes we are.“
To Conway’s point, recent polling indicates that white suburban voters would feel less safe in a Biden administration, something the Biden campaign rejects.
“I think suburban voters are looking around at what’s going on in this country and they’re looking at who’s in the White House and they’re seeing Donald Trump. They don’t see Joe Biden,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They see Donald Trump in the White House. This is Trump’s America. The chaos that suburban voters are feeling and that voters all across this country are feeling is a result of Donald Trump’s failed leadership.”
Bedingfield also accused Trump of trying to incite violence, and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), told CNN that Trump was “willfully fanning the flames of this violence.”
Trump began his Sunday with a flurry of activity on social media, tweeting, retweeting and quote-tweeting dozens of messages that ran the gamut from bashing Wheeler — siding with a post that referred to him as a “useless f—ing idiot” — to praising the caravan of supporters who drove into Portland over the weekend as “GREAT PATRIOTS” and sharing a satirical news article that quoted Biden talking to a department store mannequin.
In the afternoon, the president referred to Wheeler on Twitter as “the dummy running Portland,” and concluded: “The only way you will stop the violence in the high crime Democrat run cities is through strength!“ Earlier in the day, he had retweeted a post that gave Wheeler’s phone number and asked people to call it to tell him to resign.
Additional posts that appeared on the president’s timeline suggested that Wheeler should resign “for committing war crimes,” that Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York should be jailed and that Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., should arrest “agitators and thugs!” The president also reissued a call for “LAW & ORDER!!!”
“It is quite interesting to listen to President Donald John Trump talk about being the law-and-order president when no one has violated the law in 2020 more than he has,” said Demings, who served as an impeachment manager earlier this year and sits on the House Intelligence and Judiciary panels. “We’re talking about a president who just had his kickoff for his reelection on the grounds of the White House. And we all know that that was a violation of law.”
Trump campaigned on a pledge to restore safety, though Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) cautioned, “President Trump has a tendency to overpromise.”
Still, Republicans insisted that chaos in Democratic-led cities was the fault of those very Democrats, not the president. Meadows said the Trump administration had repeatedly offered federal assistance to cities, help that was rejected in Portland.
“The president is on the side of law enforcement and the rule of law,” Meadows said.
Trump on Sunday morning also shared a post predicting that he could win as much as 16 percent of the Black vote, doubling the support he got in 2016.
Cedric Richmond (D-La.), a Biden campaign co-chairman, said the president “effectively” raised the question of what Black Americans have to lose by supporting him in 2016.
“Black men see clearly what they have to lose,” Richmond said on NBC. “They can get killed and the president won’t say a word, won’t utter Jacob Blake’s name, will not talk about police reform.”
“This is his America. So how do you break this country and then run for reelection saying, ‘I want to fix everything that I just destroyed?’” Richmond continued. “And so that will be the message of the campaign, and we’re going to have to make that case. But at the same time, I think America is in a real fragile point and I think that you will hear Joe Biden speak, you will hear him try to heal this country, because the president just doesn’t have it in him.”