U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday told a reporter that “your supporters” were behind the shooting death of a man during protests in Portland last weekend, while refusing to condemn the violent tactics of counter-protesters who support him.
Earlier Monday, Trump criticized his presidential election opponent Joe Biden for not explicitly condemning Antifa and other perpetrators of what the president called “left-wing political violence” amid protests against racial injustice and police brutality that are once again escalating across the United States.
Trump was then asked by a CNN reporter during a White House briefing why he wouldn’t do the same for a group of his supporters who were seen on video shooting protesters with paintballs and pepper spray from the backs of trucks outfitted with Trump re-election banners and flags.
“That was a peaceful protest,” he said. “Paint is a defensive mechanism. Paint is not bullets.
“Your supporters — and they are your supporters indeed — shot a young gentleman and killed him. Not with paint, but with a bullet. And I think it’s disgraceful.”
A supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer was killed late Saturday amid skirmishes between Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters who had gathered for another night of demonstrations.
Police have not made an arrest in the case, and there is no evidence that the shooter is a supporter of CNN or any other media outlet.
The victim was identified by the founder of Patriot Prayer as Aaron “Jay” Danielson of Portland. Police, who confirmed the identification Monday, said Danielson was 39 and died of a gunshot wound to the chest.
Protests in Portland have continued uninterrupted for nearly 100 days since the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis on May 25. Yet other cities have seen demonstrations spark anew this week after officers in Kenosha, Wis., shot another Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back seven times Tuesday.
Blake survived the shooting, but has become another symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for police reform in the U.S.
Protests in Kenosha this past weekend over Blake’s shooting saw two protesters killed and another one injured. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, an outspoken Trump supporter from Illinois who had armed himself and joined a local militia in Kenosha, has been charged in the shooting.
During the same press conference Monday, Trump refused to explicitly condemn Rittenhouse’s actions, suggesting “he probably would have been killed” had he not opened fire.
While commenting on Portland, Trump said supporters of his have been motivated by rising crime rates in cities like Chicago, New York and Portland, criticizing that city’s mayor for refusing to accept the help of federal agents to quell the violence.
“When these people turn that on and they see that, they say, ‘this is not our country,'” he said, while repeating his supporters “went in peacefully.”
By saying the shooter in Portland was a supporter of CNN, Trump continued to paint the media at large as being overly biased toward Democrats and liberal interests.
And while the president blamed Biden for siding with “anarchists,” Biden, in his most direct attacks yet, accused Trump of causing the divisions that have ignited the violence. He delivered an uncharacteristically blistering speech at a campaign event in Pittsburgh and distanced himself from radical forces involved in the altercations.
“He doesn’t want to shed light,” Biden said of Trump. “He wants to generate heat, and he’s stoking violence in our cities. He can’t stop the violence because for years he’s fomented it.”
In a statement after Trump’s news conference comments, Biden said, “Today, I traveled to Pittsburgh to explain how the president was making America less safe — on COVID, on the economy, on crime, on racism, on violence — and reiterated my clear message that violence is not the answer to any of these problems.
“Tonight, the president declined to rebuke violence. He wouldn’t even repudiate one of his supporters who is charged with murder because of his attacks on others. He is too weak, too scared of the hatred he has stirred to put an end to it.”
—With files from the Associated Press