The Department of Homeland Security told federal officials to paint a sympathetic picture of Kyle Rittenhouse to the public, according to a report from NBC News.
Prosecutors have accused Illinois 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of fatally shooting two Black Lives Matter protesters and wounding one more in Kenosha, Wisconsin — an act that Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to condemn.
Now, internal documents show that Trump's tacit defense of Rittenhouse has grown to become part of the federal government's official response to the shooting. A document from the Department of Homeland Security — which was first obtained by NBC News — appeared to direct federal law enforcement officials to portray Rittenhouse as a sympathetic figure in public statements about the investigation.
Among the talking points outlined in the document was the suggestion that federal officials say Rittenhouse "took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners," and that he was "chased and attacked" by rioters before the alleged shootings.
The DHS talking points continued: "Subsequent video has emerged reportedly showing that there were 'multiple gunmen' involved, which would lend more credence to the self-defense claims."
Peter Boogaard, a spokesperson for the department during President Barack Obama's administration, told NBC News it was "as unprecedented as it is wrong" for law enforcement to be instructed on what to say to the media while an investigation is still ongoing.
The memo further instructed law enforcement officials to focus the conversation on maintaining "law and order" in American cities, and to tell the media 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," the document continued.
According to NBC News, most federal law enforcement officials have remained silent despite the talking points' direction.
Trump himself has not remained silent. Instead, he's openly defended Rittenhouse, arguing that Rittenhouse acted in "self-defense" — the same argument being made by Rittenhouse's defense attorneys.
"That was an interesting situation," Trump said in an interview. "You saw the same tape as I saw, and he was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like. And he fell. And then they very violently attacked him."
Footage from the shooting belies this claim: It shows Rittenhouse running away from the scene after shooting one protester, as others chase him down in an effort to disarm him.
Republicans have continued to defend Rittenhouse for his alleged crimes, all while insisting they are the "law and order" party.
"If you don't allow police to do their job, then the American people have to defend themselves in some way," Trump campaign spokesperson Hogan Gidley told CNN on Wednesday.
"How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?" Fox News host Tucker Carlson said in August. "Everyone can see what was happening in Kenosha. It was getting crazier by the hour."
David Harsanyi, a senior writer at the conservative National Review, tweeted that the Rittenhouse footage "looks a lot like self-defense."
Conservatives are even raising money to support Rittenhouse in the wake of the shooting.
A group called "Friends of the Rittenhouse Family" raised more than half a million dollars for Rittenhouse's defense through the Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo, claiming Rittenhouse was "unfairly charged with murder."
The Gun Owners of America — an extremist group to the right of the National Rifle Association — sent out emails raising money for Rittenhouse's defense and blaming "fake news reports" about Rittenhouse.
Rittenhouse's attorney, Lin Wood, is now threatening to sue Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for defamation, for linking Rittenhouse's name with white supremacy militias.
No matter what happens in court, don't count on the GOP to stop defending Rittenhouse's actions anytime soon.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.