President Donald Trump Tuesday took his tough law and order message to Kenosha, the latest US city roiled by the police shooting of a black man, as he branded recent anti-racism protests there as "domestic terror" by violent mobs.
Trump has been hoping for months to shift the election battle against Democrat Joe Biden from a verdict on his widely panned handling of the coronavirus pandemic to what he sees as far more comfortable territory of law and order.
And in the Wisconsin city of Kenosha, in upheaval since a white police officer shot 29-year-old African American Jacob Blake in front of his three young sons, the Republican found his mark.
"These are not acts of peaceful protest but really domestic terror," Trump said after touring damage in the city, describing multiple nights of angry demonstrations last week that left two people dead.
Crowds lined the barricaded sidewalks along the street where the president's motorcade passed, with Trump supporters on one side and Black Lives Matter protesters on the other, yelling at one another across the street.
Trump was seen in his limousine smiling and waving at supporters who cheered in return, while opponents shouted boos at the president.
Under heavy security, Trump visited a burned out store where he told the owners "we'll help you rebuild."
"These gentlemen did a fantastic job," he said pointing to sheriff's officers, a reference to law enforcement units that quelled the violent protests.
"This is a great area, a great state," Trump added.
Meeting the Blake family during his high-profile visit was not on the president's public itinerary but just before leaving Washington he suggested it was possible.
"I don't know yet. We'll see," he said when asked. "We'll be making that determination."
A microcosm of the racial and ideological tensions of the Trump era, Kenosha has seen Black Lives Matter protests, riots, and the arrival of armed, white vigilantes, culminating in an incident in which a 17-year-old militia enthusiast, Kyle Rittenhouse, allegedly shot dead two people and badly injured another.
Democrats and police reform advocates see Kenosha as a symbol of institutional racism.
They see Rittenhouse, a Trump supporter, as emblematic of right-wing militias that are increasingly brazen about brandishing weaponry in political settings and attempting to act as amateur law enforcers.
Trump, however, comes with a different priority: countering what he has repeatedly described as the "anarchy" in Democratic-led cities.
But Trump controversially has refused to condemn the growing presence of armed vigilantes and militias on the streets, calling the alleged killings by Rittenhouse "an interesting situation."
- Fanning 'flames' -
Trump accuses Biden of weakness on the spate of violent protests in cities like Kenosha and Portland, seeking to paint the Democrat as incapable of controlling the party's left wing.
On Monday night the president floated a baseless theory on Fox News, saying without evidence that "people in the dark shadows" are behind Biden's campaign.
The comment seemed to take even pro-Trump interviewer Laura Ingraham by surprise: "That sounds like a conspiracy theory," she told him.
In the same interview Trump likened police officers who err when making split decisions to golfers who "choke" under pressure.
"Shooting the guy in the back many times. I mean, couldn't you have done something different?" he said. "But they choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt."
Biden has accused Trump of deliberately fomenting violence for political gain.
"Fires are burning and we have a president who fans the flames rather than fighting the flames," he charged on Monday.
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers had asked Trump not to visit Kenosha, and the city's Democratic Mayor John Antaramian also said over the weekend it was not a good time for the president to visit.
But Trump ignored their pleas, declaring that his trip "could increase love and respect for our country."
Watching from her front porch as police closed nearby streets on Tuesday, local resident Nicole Populorum took issue with Trump's statement that he saved Kenosha from burning down by deploying the National Guard.
"The community came together, so for him to say if it wasn't for him there would be no Kenosha is ignorant and insulting," Populorum said.