Leaked Memo Shows DHS Received Talking Points Defending Kenosha Shooting Suspect

The internal document, obtained by NBC News, guided officials toward sympathetic statements about Kyle Rittenhouse.
October 1, 2020, 3:59pm
Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Oregon, and hold signs of support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged in the shooting deaths of two Black Lives Matter protesters in Ken
Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators rally on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Portland, Oregon, and hold signs of support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged in the shooting deaths of two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Allison Dinner)

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Department of Homeland Security officials were given a list of sympathetic talking points to use when answering questions about the teenager who allegedly killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, according to an internal memo obtained by NBC News.  

It’s a stark contrast to how Trump and members of his administration have publicly spoken about left-wing protesters.

The document reportedly guided officials toward saying that the alleged gunman, Kyle Rittenhouse, "took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners” during August protests and was “seen being chased and attacked by rioters before allegedly shooting three of them, killing two.” The document also instructed officials to say they couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation, while adding that “Rittenhouse, just like everyone else in America, is innocent until proven guilty,” according to NBC News. 

It’s unclear whether the comments in the document originated from Homeland Security press officials or officials within the White House, NBC News reported. It’s also not entirely clear when the document was distributed. 

The talking points appear to reflect what Rittenhouse’s defense attorneys have said since the Trump-supporting teen was charged in the fatal shootings during protests catalyzed by the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Rittenhouse’s lawyers say the former police cadet from Antioch, Illinois, acted in self-defense and that he’d wanted to protect businesses from damage and provide medical help during a night of unrest. That’s triggered sympathy from conservative groups, calls to “free Kyle,” and an outpouring of financial support for his defense.

President Donald Trump also appeared to defend Rittenhouse this summer. 

"He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like," Trump said of Rittenhouse in August. "I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would have been killed."

NBC News also obtained another document sent to Homeland Security officials that said reporters were incorrectly describing the right-wing, pro-Trump “Patriot Prayer” group as racist.

The report did not specify whether those talking points surfaced after Aaron “Jay” Danielson, described as a supporter of Patriot Prayer, was fatally shot in Portland Aug. 29, allegedly by a man who provided “security” at Black Lives Matter protests.  Protesters and far-right groups have repeatedly clashed in the city this summer, and Danielson was part of a pro-Trump car caravan the day he died. 

Trump has called the shooting of Danielson “disgraceful.” 

The suspect in his killing, self-described antifa activist Michael Forest Reinoehl, said he was acting in self-defense after a confrontation with Danielson last month. Soon after, he was fatally shot by officers from the task force attempting to arrest him, according to the U.S. Marshals Service

During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, Trump appeared to take credit for Reinoehl’s  death.

“I sent in the U.S. Marshals to get the killer of a young man—in the middle of the street, they shot him—and for three days Portland wouldn’t do anything,” Trump said. “They took care of business.” 

Trump also failed during the debates to condemn white supremacist and militia groups, which he was asked to do. Instead, after being offered the name of one organization he might denounce—the Proud Boys, a far-right group—he said, “Proud Boys—stand back and stand by.” The comment was seen by some members of the group as an endorsement. Trump said later that he didn’t know who the Proud Boys were. 

Trump was more explicit about his feelings toward antifa and leftist protesters during the debate. He said that “somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.” He said “almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not the right-wing.” 

That contradicted comments from his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, who said during a September hearing that “racially motivated violent extremism,” often from white supremacists, was a large domestic terror threat. He also said that antifa is an ideology, rather than an organization—a claim Biden echoed in Tuesday’s debate. 

“We don’t really think of threats in terms of left, right, at the FBI. We’re focused on the violence, not the ideology,” Wray said. 

A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said in an emailed statement to VICE News that the agency “does not comment on alleged leaked documents.”