Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

On the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 1, President Donald Trump is set to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by police officer Rusten Sheskey, and where, days later, teenage Trump supporter Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protesters.

Trump has refused to condemn growing right-wing violence, and there are calls for him to stay away from Kenosha: “Now is not the time for elected officials to ignore armed militants and out-of-state instigators who want to contribute to our anguish,” warned Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in a letter.

During a Fox News appearance the night before he traveled to Kenosha, Trump again denounced Black Lives Matter, and alleged without evidence that nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the killings of Breona Taylor and George Floyd were being controlled by “people in dark shadows,” who were “controlling the streets,” in a effort to oust him from office. He added, again without evidence, that authorities had foiled a plot of a plane full of “thugs” seeking to create violence at the Republican National Convention. 

California Rep. Barbara Lee put it plainly: “Trump is going to Kenosha for one purpose: to create more division and root for violence,” she tweeted.

Earlier Monday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany refused to condemn the actions of Kyle Rittenhouse, a Blue Lives Matter supporter who shot and killed Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Gaige Grosskreutz on the third night of protests demanding justice for Blake. Trump has not reached out to Blake’s family, their attorney said.

The White House claims Trump is making the visit to support law enforcement and to help the city “heal and rebuild.” On Friday Trump defended Rusten Sheskey, the officer who shot Blake.

“People can make a mistake. That doesn’t make them bad, they choked,” Trump said of Sheskey shooting Blake seven times in the back.

Wisconsin is a key battleground state where voter turnout could determine who wins its 10 electoral votes. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden maintains a slim 3.5 point lead in the state according to recent polls, despite outspending Trump there 8 to 1 in August, according to Politico. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was leading in polls in the state only to lose to Trump, thanks to factors ranging from rampant voter suppression to her campaign bypassing the state entirely in the leadup to the general election.  

In Trump’s 2020 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last Thursday, he highlighted violence in Democrat-run cities during his tenure, even as he sought to provoke it, while falsely claiming Biden supports the movement to defund the police. 

“Make no mistake, if you give power to Joe Biden, the radical left will defund police departments all across America. They will pass federal legislation to reduce law enforcement nationwide.  They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon,” Trump said

Two days later in Portland, a man reportedly wearing Patriot Prayer insignia, an armed right-wing group known for attempting to provoke violence with left-wing protesters, was killed when hundreds descended on the city as part of the “Trump 2020 Cruise Rally in Portland” and attacked a Black Lives Matter rally with pepper spray and paintballs.

On Twitter, Trump threatened to intervene in Portland, praised Patriot Prayer, and tweeted a video showing the organization attacking demonstrators after the group said the man killed Saturday was one of their members. Police have confirmed the deceased man to be Aaron J. Danielson. Before confirmation was released, Trump tweeted, “Rest in Peace Jay!” in response to a tweet claiming to identify the victim of the Portland shooting.

Trump has routinely praised right-wing groups who have attacked protesters, and said there were “very fine people, on both sides,” after a white nationalist drove his car into counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. 

On Monday afternoon, Biden responded to Trump, especially Trump’s confusing claims the violence happening during his administration would continue if Biden were elected.

“He can’t stop the violence—because for years he has fomented it,” Biden said. “His failure to call on his own supporters to stop acting like an armed militia in this country shows how weak he is. Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is reelected?”

Biden pushed back on Trump’s recent attempt to conflate all protesters with “rioters and looters,” and condemned the looting of businesses, something he has done multiple times over the past few months.

“Rioting is not protesting. 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,” Biden said.

But critics noted the hypocrisy in condemning looting while failing to adequately address systemic racism and corruption that robs entire communities of wealth many magnitudes greater, and ignores the importance of rioting and looting in forcing the powerful to address such inequities.

Over 55 million people have filed for unemployment since March, and 12 million have lost their employer-based insurance, while U.S. billionaires increased their wealth by $637 billion during the economic lockdowns that have devastated the U.S. economy, in what’s been called “one of the greatest wealth transfers in history.” 

Insurance companies are preparing to pay out $25 million thus far to businesses in Minnesota hurt by looting there, while the annual total theft of wages of workers’ wages by employers is worth $933 million annually, according to a Economic Policy Institute report.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.