Rep. Paul Gosar plunged into the heart of a national controversy recently with a tweet that defended the actions of a 17-year-old counterprotester who killed two people in Wisconsin.
The shooting was “100% justified self-defense,” tweeted Gosar, who represents Arizona Congressional District 4, which includes all of Rim Country.
Police say Kyle Rittenhouse journeyed to Kenosha, Wis. saying he wanted to protect businesses from possible damage by people protesting the shooting of a black man by police.
Rittenhouse reportedly shot and killed a protester who tried to grab the barrel of his gun. Rittenhouse then retreated. A video that has gone viral showed several people following Rittenhouse who trips and falls. As people approach him, he fires several times, killing one man and reportedly seriously wounding a second man, who may have had a handgun.
Rittenhouse then walked toward police with his hands raised, but they let him pass through police lines. He was later arrested and charged with murder and reckless homicide as well as two counts of reckless endangerment.
Gosar concluded Rittenhouse was defending himself. “Do not try to take a weapon away from a man or bear the consequences,” the District 4 congressman tweeted. “The criminals here: Kenosha local government that allows the riots, burning and looting night after night. Armed citizens defending themselves will fill the vacuum.”
Rittenhouse apparently got the gun from a family member, although he was too young to carry the gun legally. Wisconsin does not have a “stand your ground” law, which in states like Arizona does not require you to retreat from a confrontation in your home, car or business before using deadly force in self-defense. Even in Arizona, such a law does not apply to a public street.
Gosar’s general election opponent, Delina DiSanto, reacted to the tweet, saying, “I think Paul Gosar’s comments are insensitive and neurotic. Why is he protecting this young man right off the bat? First, why did this kid go over 15 miles to Kenosha from his home with a gun? If he was going to ‘protect’ businesses, as some stories state he said, then why was he walking in the crowd of protesters? Was he called by someone to go to the protest?”
DiSanto, a businesswoman, nurse and hospital finance director, continued, “Paul goes directly to promote self-defense and Rittenhouse had the ‘right’ to have a gun. Well Wisconsin has laws that you have to be 18 to own and carry a gun in public. Paul doesn’t ask the questions when it comes to guns. He promotes the Second Amendment and instead of looking at the whole picture, he’d rather be neurotic with blinders on and get his base riled up. We need to hear from all sides.”
Gosar did not return a request to elaborate on his comment.
The incident has an eerie echo in Payson which played out in a much smaller, peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration two months ago. In that case, armed counterprotesters showed up saying they wanted to protect businesses from looters. The counterprotesters outnumbered the handful of Black Lives Matter supporters who gathered to demonstrate on the sidewalk along the highway. Several of those demonstrators left quickly, fearing violence.
Just days after the fatal shooting in Wisconsin, another fatal shooting took place at a demonstration in Portland. This time, a pro-Trump counterdemonstrator was found dead with a bullet wound to the chest.
The Wisconsin demonstrations were triggered after an incident in which Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a police officer as he attempted to access his vehicle. Police said Blake ignored orders to surrender and ignored a Taser before the officer fired seven times.
The shooting provoked a week of demonstrations and some rioting. Police arrested 175 people, many of them from addresses outside the city. Most of the arrests were for curfew violations, but charges also included at least 20 firearms violations.