Federal law enforcement officials were instructed to show sympathy for Kyle Rittenhouse when answering questions about him from the media
An internal document from the Department of Homeland Security obtained by NBC News includes talking points that advise officials to mention that he “took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners.” Rittenhouse is the white teenager who has been charged with killing two Kenosha, Wisconsin protesters in demonstrations that followed the shooting of Jacob Blake.
A second batch of talking points issued to DHS officials said the media were wrongly labeling the group Patriot Prayer as racists after the group clashed with protesters in Portland, Oregon. It’s uncertain if the talking points came from the White House or Homeland Security’s press office.
Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, was arrested on first-degree murder charges and is currently battling extradition to Wisconsin. His attorneys also say he was practicing self-defense.
Four former Homeland Security officials—two of whom worked under Republican administrations—told NBC that it’s uncommon for law enforcement officials’ judgment to be guided in a case involving a particular group or individual before the investigation is over.
“It is as unprecedented as it is wrong,” Peter Boogaard, who was a spokesperson for Homeland Security during the Obama administration, told NBC.
“What strikes me about the talking points is that they didn't call for calm among the public,” said Elizabeth Neumann, who served as DHS's assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy for Trump. “Even in the early hours after the incident, it was known private militias had self-deployed. …They seemed more interested in Rittenhouse's reputation than calling for calm and actual law and order.” Neumann recently endorsed Joe Biden for president after leaving the Trump administration in April.
The Rittenhouse talking points also say, “Kyle was seen being chased and attacked by rioters before allegedly shooting three of them, killing two.” It continued, “Subsequent video has emerged reportedly showing that there were 'multiple gunmen' involved, which would lend more credence to the self-defense claims.”
If asked about Rittenhouse, officials were directed to say they can’t comment on an open investigation, only that “Rittenhouse, just like everyone else in America, is innocent until proven guilty and deserves a fair trial based on all the facts, not just the ones that support a certain narrative. This is why we try the accused in the court of law, not the star chamber of public opinion.”
Officials were also instructed to center conversations on preserving law and order, by saying "we need to stop the violence in our cities," because "chaotic and violent situations lead to chaotic, violent and tragic outcomes."
DHS officials haven’t openly advocated for Rittenhouse, but Trump has shown him sympathy and has often blamed left-wing extremists for inciting violence. During Tuesday’s debate, Trump chose not to condemn white supremacy, instead telling The Proud Boys to, “Stand back and stand by.”
He added, “But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.”