Donald Trump appeared to mock Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler in a live interview on Thursday night, saying that federal law enforcement officers "knocked the hell out of him" at a protest this week.
Speaking to Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump spoke of his decision to dispatch a number of federal security forces to secure federal buildings. The move has come under intense scrutiny, with the officers being accused of using heavy-handed tactics and critics saying that Trump is aiming to incite violence. The president has since announced plans to send what he referred to as a "surge" of security forces to other major cities, all of which are led by Democratic mayors.
Trump defended the decision, telling Hannity that unrest in the Oregon city necessitated his response. He went on to refer to the mayor being hit with tear gas dispatched by the forces during a protest on Wednesday night in a tone that appeared to mock him.
Trump said that protesters were trying to "rip down" the courthouse and blamed the Portland mayor --- who he initially referred to as Whalen -- for taking part in the protest, insinuating that he deserved to have come under attack.
"He made a fool out of himself," Trump said. "He wanted to be among the people, so he went into the crowd and they knocked the hell out of him -- that was the end of him. It was pretty pathetic."
Video from Wednesday's demonstration showed Wheeler physically affected by the irritant, which left his eyes watered. He was given water as he moved away to recover, and later had angry words about the decision to dispatch the forces in his city.Wheeler has been sharply critical of the federal response in his city. After being struck by tear gas on Wednesday, he said that it was an "egregious overreaction" and that there was no justification for the use of irritants like that on protesters.
"This is not a de-escalation strategy, this is flat-out urban warfare," he said, via the BBC.As NBC News noted, Wheeler himself had been a target for protesters who said that he did not do enough to rein in the city's police officers during protests. The Portland police department was criticized for using tear gas at multiple demonstrations. Wheeler has also come under fire from some local leaders who said that he has not done enough to bring an end to the protests, which at times have turned violent.