President Donald Trump billed his Monday appearance in the White House briefing room as a “news conference.”
He did take about six minutes’ worth of questions. But he devoted the first 20 minutes to a de facto campaign event – another extended Trump attack on Democratic nominee Joe Biden, whom he tried to link to rioters even after Biden unequivocally denounced them during a speech earlier in the day.
Trump criticized Biden’s speech for not specifically identifying left-wingers or Antifa as responsible for the violence Biden was denouncing. But Trump himself refused to condemn violence by his conservative supporters. He offered a preliminary defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who has been charged with killing two people and wounding another during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, claiming it appeared Rittenhouse was acting to defend himself.
We won’t attempt to render a verdict on that case in a quick fact check. But Trump also made a number of claims that were clearly false or misleading.
Biden blaming police
Trump claimed that during Biden’s speech Monday, the nominee did not mention violence from the far-left and that he “blame[d]” police.
“He didn’t mention the far left, or from what I saw I don’t believe he mentioned the word ‘Antifa,’” Trump said. “But mostly seemed to blame the police and law enforcement.”
Facts First: It’s true Biden didn’t condemn “Antifa” or the “far left” by name in this speech, but he issued a broad condemnation of rioting and looting. It’s unclear what Trump believes Biden was blaming cops for. Biden said most cops “are good and decent people” but condemned police brutality.
Before strongly condemning riots, Biden spoke against “The violence of extremists and opportunists – right-wing militias, white supremacists, vigilantes – who infiltrate protests carrying weapons of war, hoping to wreak havoc, and to derail any hope and support for progress.”
Biden continued. “I want to make it absolutely clear … rioting is not protesting, looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting. It’s lawlessness, plain and simple.”
In a statement Sunday, Biden “condemn[ed] violence of every kind by any one, whether on the left or the right” challenging “Trump to do the same.”
On police, Biden spoke against “violence we’ve seen again and again and again of unwarranted police shootings [and] excessive force,” mentioning the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake. Biden also noted that “most cops are good and decent people.”
“I have worked with police in this country for many years,” Biden said. “I know most cops are good, decent people. I know how they risk their lives every time they put that shield on and go out the door. And I am confident I can bring the police to the table as well.”
Protests in Portland
Trump said of Portland: “The entire city is ablaze all the time.”
Facts First: This is false. While protesters have set fires at some of the nightly protests in Portland, and while some of the protests have involved violence, these problems have largely been confined to a small section of the city near the federal courthouse; most Portland residents have been able to go about their normal lives.
Josh Campbell, a CNN law enforcement correspondent on the ground in Portland and who is a former FBI supervisory special agent, told us in an email after Trump’s news conference: “Insisting this is a city ablaze is a lie.”
“Portland is not a city under siege. Today, I went to a Starbucks downtown, ate lunch at one of the city’s famous downtown food trucks, and bought a new pair of shoes at the mall. As I write this, I’m looking out of my hotel room at a bike tour riding by outside on the downtown street,” Campbell said.
“To be sure, there have been protests – peaceful during the daytime, and some turning violent at night – for over 90 days, but the rioting has largely been confined to one city block downtown near the federal courthouse. Last night, protesters showed up at a police precinct a few miles from downtown and were dispersed by police after some protesters started throwing eggs and rocks at police cars. There has been periodic, localized violence, but nothing widespread.”
Commending Operation Legend, where the FBI has provided federal resources to support law enforcement efforts to address violent crime in nine cities, including Chicago, Trump claimed “in the last month alone, we cut the murder rate in Chicago in half.”
Facts First: Trump was roughly accurate about the recent decline, though it’s not clear the federal agents are primarily responsible for the monthly decline. Chicago was experiencing the city’s deadliest month in over 25 years.
At this time last year, there had been 352 homicides in Chicago for 2019. As of Sunday, there have been 497 homicide victims in Chicago for 2020. The Tribune reports that by the end of July, there were 440 homicides this year, meaning there have been 57 people murdered in August. Compared to 107 homicides in July, that’s a decrease of approximately 47%.
Trump credits this decrease to the more than 100 federal agents who arrived in Chicago at the end of July as part of Operation Legend.
Biden’s comments on rioters
Trump claimed Biden has told a “monstrous lie” by describing vandalism, anarchy, rioting and looting as “peaceful” protest.
Facts First: This is false. Biden has correctly noted that many protesters have been peaceful; he has not argued that the violent protesters are peaceful. Rather, he has repeatedly denounced violence, rioting and looting.