Violence roils the presidential campaigns
President Trump visited Kenosha, Wis., this week to press the law-and-order message that’s become his chief re-election theme, in the wake of a police shooting of a black man there and the ensuing fatal shooting of two protesters, allegedly by a 17-year-old Trump supporter. Trump met with law enforcement officials in the small lakeside city and toured buildings torched by rioters. The violence erupted after police responding to a call for help shot 29-year-old Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he tried to enter his car, severing his spine and leaving him paralyzed. Trump, who did not meet with Blake’s family, blamed the violence on “far-left politicians” who “push the destructive message that our nation and our law enforcement are oppressive or racist.” Trump also defended Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with killing two protesters and injuring a third last week with a military-style rifle. Rittenhouse, who’s been charged with homicide, illegal weapons possession, and four other crimes, drove in from Illinois to join groups of vigilantes patrolling Kenosha’s streets to defend the city from protesters. A video seems to show him shooting and killing a protester who threw a bag at him, and then being chased, falling, and shooting two other protesters trying to take his gun away. He has claimed self-defense. Trump said that Rittenhouse had been “violently attacked,” and “probably would have been killed.”
In Portland, Ore., a caravan that included members of the far-right group Patriot Prayer drove through downtown Saturday, firing paintballs and pepper spray at police-brutality protesters who’ve staged demonstrations around the federal courthouse for months. A 39-year-old supporter of Patriot Prayer was fatally shot by an unknown assailant during a confrontation on the street. In a tweet, Trump called the caravan members “GREAT PATRIOTS” defending Portland against “Disgraceful Anarchists.”
In a speech, Democratic nominee Joe Biden fired back at Trump, blaming him for stoking division and “recklessly encouraging violence.” Biden said he “unequivocally” condemned the “lawlessness” in Kenosha and other cities, called for looters to be prosecuted, and challenged Trump’s claims that disorder would grow if he were elected. “I’d be looking to lower the temperature in this country, not raise it,” said Biden, who planned to visit Kenosha on Thursday, after The Week went to press. “Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?”
What the editorials said
The Portland victim’s blood is on Democrats’ hands, said The Wall Street Journal. His shooting “is what happens when political leaders fail to perform the most basic responsibility of government to protect innocent lives and property.” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown have “hamstrung” law enforcement while indulging rioters who’ve attacked police and burned buildings. Now Democrats are trying to “make alleged vigilantism the story rather than the failure of progressive Democratic governance.”
“Trump’s exploitation of Kenosha’s pain is the foulest act of his presidency,” said the Madison, Wis., Capital Times. One man has been paralyzed, two others are dead, and “a city has been shaken to its very core.” And the nation’s president “came to Wisconsin not to promote unity” but “to fan the flames” and praise armed vigilantes as patriots.
What the columnists said
Democrats have finally woken up to “the disorder in American cities,” said Rich Lowry in the New York Post. Until now they’ve been content to perpetuate a “narrative of courageous young people rising up against systemic racism.” Now that they fear the violence and chaos will hurt Biden, they’re acknowledging it’s wrong—but they’re blaming Trump. Sorry, but looting and fires have mostly occurred in cities run by Democrats. “If they can’t maintain basic order, it’s on them.”
In case you’ve forgotten, Trump, not Biden, is president, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Biden has never supported “violence of any sort,” and this week forcefully condemned people who exploit legitimate protests to loot and set fire to buildings. Trump, on the other hand, has “encouraged police brutality” and refuses to condemn “right-wing terrorists” like Rittenhouse. He wants to foment violence for reasons aide Kellyanne Conway explained to Fox News: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”
Democrats do have a problem, said Robert Tracinski in TheBulwark.com. Polls show “public opinion is turning against the Black Lives Matter protests.” Democratic leaders haven’t pushed back against “the anarchist and revolutionary wing of the protest movement” that has hijacked the protests to set fires and loot stores. “This is precisely the sort of thing that could tip the election back to Trump.”
“This is a profoundly dangerous moment,” said Jack Holmes in Esquire.com. How did we land here, with “armed militias in military cosplay patrolling the streets?” Start with state legislatures that passed open-carry laws. Now we have hundreds of militia men supporting the president by carrying military-grade weapons on city streets. It’s “the culmination of a long-building national psychosis.”
“More bloodshed could soon follow the killings in Kenosha,” said Elaine Godfrey in TheAtlantic.com. Vigilantism is on the rise: In May and June right-wing counterprotesters showed up 187 times at protests around the country, according to an organization that tracks extremist groups—in some two dozen of those instances, they were welcomed by police. Militant groups take such police leniency as validation, says retired FBI agent Michael German, who worked undercover with right-wing groups. Throw in Trump’s tacit support, and the result is “a monster that’s going to be hard to contain.” A “new civil war” is taking shape, said Will Bunch in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Two months from Election Day, “the specter that Americans will be casting ballots in a time of domestic military intervention and increasing civil unrest seems more likely than ever.” The next two months “could get much, much worse.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP (2), Newscom ■