US President Donald Trump has branded the Democratic mayor of Kenosha “a fool”, accusing him of standing up for “radical anarchists”.
Mr Trump claimed, without evidence, that Kenosha would have been “burnt to the ground” by protesters were it not for the National Guard.
The Wisconsin city saw days of violence after Jacob Blake, a black man, was shot in the back by police.
Mr Trump is visiting the city, despite appeals from local leaders.
The president is pushing a strong “law and order” message ahead of November’s election.
“I think a lot of people are looking at what’s happening to these Democrat-run cities and they’re disgusted,” Mr Trump said before boarding Air Force One to fly to Wisconsin.
“They see what’s going on and they can’t believe what’s taking place in our country. I can’t believe it either.”
Although Mr Trump claimed he sent the National Guard into Kenosha, they were actually deployed by Wisconsin’s governor and supported by 200 federal law enforcement officials ordered in by the president.
He cited reports that protesters had tried to break into the house of Kenosha’s Democratic Mayor John Antaramian.
“I saw last night where these radical anarchists are trying to get into the mayor’s house and lots of bad things were happening to this poor foolish, very stupid mayor. I mean how he can be mayor I have no idea.
“They had tremendous numbers of people really harassing him horribly and I guess trying to break into his house and he still sticks up for them because he’s a fool. Only a fool would stick up for them like that.”
The claim of the break-in attempt is unconfirmed.
Mr Trump said he was visiting the city “for law enforcement and for the National Guard”.
“They’ve done a great job in Kenosha. They have put out the flame immediately,” he said.
In Kenosha the president will meet police officers but not the Blake family. He said previously it was because relatives had wanted lawyers present.
Over the weekend Mayor Antaramian said it was not a good time for Mr Trump to visit.
“Realistically, from our perspective, our preference would have been for him not to be coming at this point in time,” he told National Public Radio.
Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers also warned against the visit, saying it would “hinder our healing”.
President Trump is flying straight into the latest hotspot in this incendiary summer of racial reckoning – literally – even though the governor asked him not to come.
He’s on the smaller Air Force One plane so at least in the press section there’s no chance to social distance – although we were tested for the coronavirus before boarding and are all wearing masks.
Mr Trump was not wearing a mask when he spoke to us on the tarmac.
He said he was going to Kenosha to thank law enforcement for a job well done. As soon as the national guard was deployed “they put out the flame immediately”, he said.
Democrats have accused the president of fanning the flames of unrest.
He has focused on the violence that’s accompanied some protests rather than the grievances of the anti-racism demonstrators. And he’s supported the police against those demanding an end to police brutality.
The father of Jacob Blake has called the president a racist and said the family was not interested in speaking with him, although Mr Trump didn’t rule out some kind of meeting.
He told us he thought his message was helping to bridge racial divides because black and Hispanic Americans were also against crime and he was about “law and order”.
He will underline that law and order message – the rallying cry of his re-election campaign – by touring property damaged during the protests and holding a round table with police officers.
Almost certainly the president sees a political opportunity by visiting this mid-western town in the crucial swing state of Wisconsin.
Kenosha has emerged as the new epicentre for the debate over race and violence and how each presidential candidate will handle this explosive issue.
What’s the latest in Kenosha?
In an interview with CNN, Mr Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr, said his son’s life was more important than a meeting with President Trump.
“I’m not getting into politics. It’s all about my son, man. It has nothing to do with a photo op,” he said.
Mr Blake Sr said his son was still paralysed from the waist down, “holding on for dear life”.
Jacob Blake, 29, was shot several times in the back by a police officer during an arrest, as Mr Blake tried to get into a car where his three children were seated.
“We are dealing with an individual that a couple of weeks ago was running around with the boys and talking to me on the phone and laughing, to an individual that cannot move his leg,” Mr Blake Sr said.
Mr Blake’s shooting sparked a fresh wave of anti-racism protests in the US.