Republican senator refuses to condemn Kyle Rittenhouse, suspect in double killing at Wisconsin protests

'It is a tragedy,' Ron Johnson says repeatedly

Griffin Connolly
Monday 31 August 2020 09:56 BST
Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson refuses to directly denounce Kyle Rittenhouse
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Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin refused to individually condemn the teenage gunman who has been accused of shooting and killing two people in Kenosha, Wisonsin, last week, saying instead that he condemns all "violence" and "economic destruction" that has happened since protests against the police shooting there of Jacob Blake have turned to riots.

The alleged gunman, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch, Illinois, has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, all with a deadly weapon.

In a tense exchange on Sunday, CNN's Dana Bash initially tried to ask Mr Johnson whether he condemned Mr Rittenhouse, pointing out he was "a Trump supporter".

"It is a tragedy," Mr Johnson said, before she could finish her question.

"Do you condemn—" she started again, as Mr Johnson cut in with, "It is a tragedy."

When Bash persisted for an answer, Mr Johnson tried to pivot to a more general statement about death.

“Listen, I don’t want to see any loss of life. It is a tragedy, and the way you prevent tragedies is you support—,” he began, until Bash cut him off.

"A tragedy could be a car accident," she said.

Mr Johnson jumped in again: “You allow for peaceful protesters, but you don’t allow — you don’t allow peaceful protests to turn into a siege."

“Listen, I don’t want to see anybody lose their life. I don’t want to see the violence continue. I don’t want to see businesses burn down. I don’t want to see economic destruction. I condemn it all,” he said.

Mr Rittenhouse's case has been yet another issue that has divided Americans and politicians along ideological and party lines, with Democrats denouncing the boy as a white supremacist fuelled by Donald Trump's rhetoric and Republicans saying more facts must emerge about the circumstances of the shooting.

Some, including Fox News host Tucker Carlson, have even suggested Mr Rittenhouse was attempting to "maintain order when no one else would".

For several days after Mr Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, paralysing him from the waist down, protests against his killing turned into riots, with buildings burned, stores looted, and walls tagged with graffiti.

Mr Blake's family has called for an end to the violence.

"As I drove through the city, I noticed a lot of damage. It doesn't reflect my son or my family," his mother, Julia Jackson, said last week.

The president's oldest son, Donald Trump Jr, retweeted a Twitter post in which a user explains how Mr Rittenhouse's actions convinced him to vote for Mr Trump in the 2020 US election.

“Kyle Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump. Violent extremists were destroying people’s lives for months, 30 people were killed. Democrats rejected Federal assistance every time Trump offered it. Media lied about Trump deploying “secret police,” the Twitter user wrote in the post retweeted by Mr Trump Jr.

“Finally some kid from a nearby town, about 20 minutes drive, decides to go up and protect businesses and offer medical support to people, even the rioters. He was threatened and shot at,” the post said.

Meanwhile, Portland, Oregon, continues to be a hotspot for protests against police brutality — sparked by the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and others — that have at times turned riotous.

One person was shot and killed there on Saturday as a caravan of Trump supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters clashed in the streets.

Supporters of President Donald Trump attend a rally and car parade Saturday, Aug, 29, 2020, from Clackamas to Portland, Oregon (AP)

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows defended Mr Trump from partial responsibility for stoking the divisions that have led to the violence in Portland and Kenosha, which the president is visiting this coming week.

“That’s just not accurate," Mr Meadows said when asked on Sunday by MSNBC's Chuck Todd how much responsibility voters should be giving Mr Trump for his "inability to keep the streets safe".

"I can tell you that when we look at Kenosha and the phone calls that were made to the governor of Wisconsin, we offered help. Help was denied. Obviously, there was multiple gunshots and people lost their lives,” Mr Meadows said.

He added that it is cities with mostly Democratic-led local governments where the most violence is happening.

"You want to talk about Donald Trump’s America. Most of Donald Trump’s America is peaceful. It is a Democrat-led city in Portland,” he said.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and others in his party have said in recent days that people are not safe in "Donald Trump's America" due to the president's divisiveness.

"The President incites violence, inspires white-supremacist shooters, and his failed Covid response is costing thousands of lives per day. When you look at the world right now, ask yourself: Do you feel safe in Trump’s America?" he asks in a new campaign video released on Saturday.

The US presidential election is 3 November.

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