Officials within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were directed to respond in a positive and defensive manner to inquiries regarding Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot and killed two Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in late August, according to an internal document.
Rittenhouse had traveled from Illinois to demonstrations in Kenosha, which began in response to the police-perpetrated shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot by law enforcement seven times in his back as he tried to enter his vehicle.
The document, obtained by NBC News, told DHS officials to describe Rittenhouse’s actions in terms that emphasized legal presumption of innocence. One of the talking points, for example, suggested that Rittenhouse “took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners.”
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Officials were also instructed to describe the teenager’s actions as a matter of self-defense, and that he had traveled across state lines to promote “law and order” — a phrase that is frequently used by President Trump in his reelection campaign rhetoric.
It is not clear whether the document originated from DHS or came as a directive from the White House. NBC News also reported that several former DHS officials, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, decried the contents of the document, noting that it is highly unusual for officials to be told to opine on an ongoing investigation.
“It is as unprecedented as it is wrong,” Peter Boogaard, a former DHS spokesman during the Obama administration, said.
Rittenhouse is presently being charged as an adult for a number of crimes, including first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional homicide, as well as first-degree recklessly endangering safety and a misdemeanor charge of possessing a dangerous weapon by someone under 18.
In Wisconsin, it is illegal for a person under 18 to possess assault rifles under most circumstances, which Rittenhouse had used on August 25 to shoot and kill Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum.
Trump came to the shooter’s defense during an August 31 press briefing.
“He was trying to get away from them, I guess, it looks like,” Trump said, referring to Huber and Rosenbaum.
In addition to offering talking points about Rittenhouse, the DHS document also told officials not to describe Patriot Prayer, an extremist group that has attacked demonstrators at uprisings in Portland, Oregon, as racist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Patriot Prayer as a “far-right group active in the Pacific Northwest.” Its rallies regularly include members of the Proud Boys, another noted hate group, and one that Trump refused to condemn in a presidential debate earlier this week.