The strange exchange prompted head-scratching from prominent Trump critics and produced few clear answers about what precisely Trump was referring to. The president declined to elaborate to Ingraham, saying the case was “under investigation,” and the White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late on Monday.
But the allegations fit into Trump’s efforts after a week of deadly violence at protests in Wisconsin and Oregon to blame the unrest on Democrats and left-wing anarchists, ignoring the role of armed right-wing agitators in both places. In his Monday night interview with Ingraham, Trump also blasted Portland’s mayor and compared the Wisconsin officer in the police shooting of Jacob Blake to a golfer missing a putt.
The exchange with Ingraham began with Trump suggesting Biden “doesn’t control anything.”
The Fox News host then asked who the president believed was pulling the strings. Trump replied, “People that you’ve never heard of. People that are in the dark shadows.”
“What does that mean?” Ingraham asked. “That sounds like conspiracy theory. Dark shadows — what is that?”
“No, they’re people that you haven’t heard of,” Trump continued. “They’re people that are on the streets, people that are controlling the streets.”
Trump then described a plane “from a certain city this weekend, and on the plane it was almost completely loaded with thugs wearing these dark uniforms, black uniforms with gear.” Ingraham asked where the plane was coming from, but the president demurred.
“I’ll tell you sometime,” he said. “It’s under investigation right now.”
Debunked rumors of a plane filled with black-clad rabble-rousers setting out to harass right-leaning towns and suburbs have appeared on social media in the past. This weekend, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) similarly suggested on Fox News that the protesters who surrounded and heckled him as he left the Republican National Convention last week had been paid to come to D.C. as part of alleged “interstate criminal traffic being paid for across state lines.”
Some Trump critics expressed their bafflement at his claims, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) who responded simply with a wide-eyed emoji.
The president had more specific and pointed criticism for Portland’s Democratic mayor, Ted Wheeler, and Biden over their responses to protests that have frequently been declared riots.
“These are terrible and very incompetent people,” the president told Ingraham at the start of her 10 p.m. show. “Portland has been burning for many years. For decades it’s been burning.”
Oregon’s largest city has not been burning “for decades,” but it has endured several small fires set inside municipal buildings and police precincts during more than 95 consecutive nights of Black Lives Matter protests. In response, far-right extremists have targeted the city with increasingly caustic rallies, where they have sparred with black-clad antifascists in the streets armed with pepper spray, paintball guns, baseball bats and firearms. On Saturday, 39-year-old Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a Patriot Prayer supporter in a pro-Trump caravan was shot and killed in downtown Portland.
That incident came days after another deadly shooting at a protest in Kenosha, Wis., where 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with homicide in the killings of two people after roaming the streets alongside armed, self-described militia members as anti-police protesters rioted. Earlier Monday, Trump defended Rittenhouse while casting his own supporters in Portland as peaceful, though they shot counterdemonstrators with paintballs and mace as their long line of cars rolled by.
On Ingraham’s show, Trump addressed the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which sparked the Kenosha unrest. Although the president broadly praised police, he cast the officer in the police shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was shot multiple times in the back, as a “bad apple” who made a poor decision under pressure — comparing his failure to that of a golfer.
“Shooting the guy in the back many times — I mean, couldn’t you have done something different? Couldn’t you have wrestled him?” Trump said. “But they choke. Just like in a golf tournament. They miss a three-foot putt.”
“You’re not comparing it to golf, because that’s what the media will say,” Ingraham interjected.
“I’m saying people choke,” Trump responded. “People choke.”
The exchange prompted swift backlash late Monday, with many Democrats balking at the comparison.
“You know things are bad when Laura Ingraham has to save President Trump from saying stupid things,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted.
Correction: This story originally misidentified Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s title.