How Chaos in Kenosha Is Already Swaying Some Voters in Wisconsin
Read Time:29 Minute, 33 Second

John Geraghty, a 41-year-old worker in a tractor factory, has barely paid attention to the presidential race or the conventions. Every day he focuses on survival: getting his son to sports practice, working at his job where he now wears a mask, and getting home to sleep, only to start over again the next day.

But when he woke up on Monday morning to images of his hometown, Kenosha, Wis., in flames, he could not stop watching. The unrest in faraway places like Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis had arrived at his doorstep, after a white police officer on Sunday shot a Black man in the back multiple times. And after feeling “100 percent on the fence” about which candidates he will vote for in November, he is increasingly nervous that Democratic state leaders seem unable to contain the spiraling crisis.

“It’s crazy that it’s now happening in my home city,” he said. “We have to have a serious conversation about what are we going to do about it. It doesn’t seem like the powers that be want to do much.”

The politically calculated warnings of President Trump and the Republican Party about chaos enveloping America should Democrats win in November are reverberating among some people in Kenosha, a small city in the southeast corner of one of the most critical states in this election, where protests have raged for a number of increasingly combustible nights.

While many demonstrators have been peaceful, others have set fire to buildings. At least four businesses downtown have been looted. Men armed with guns have shown up to confront protesters, leading to the shooting of three people, two of them fatally. On Wednesday, a white teenager from across the state line in Illinois was arrested in connection to the shooting, and Mr. Trump vowed to send in federal law enforcement and additional National Guard troops.

In Kenosha County, where the president won by fewer than 250 votes in 2016, those who already supported Mr. Trump said in interviews that the events of the past few days have simply reinforced their conviction that he is the man for the job. But some voters who were less sure of their choice said the chaos in their city and the inability of elected leaders to stop it were currently nudging them toward the Republicans.

And some Democrats, nervous about condemning the looting because they said they understood the rage behind it, worried that what was happening in their town might backfire and aid the president’s re-election prospects.

Yet the situation in Kenosha remains extremely fluid. Many people in the city are enraged about the police shooting of the Black man, Jacob Blake; the Democratic nominee for president, Joseph R. Biden Jr., spoke with his family and said that “justice must and will be done.” On Wednesday night, in response to the shooting, athletes from the N.B.A., W.N.B.A., Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer refused to participate in games. And following the arrest of the teenager in connection with the two fatal shootings, it emerged that he had displayed support for Mr. Trump on social media.

Ellen Ferwerda, who owns an antique furniture store downtown just blocks from the worst of the destruction that is now closed, said that she was desperate for Mr. Trump to lose in November but that she had “huge concern” the unrest in her town could help him win. She added that local Democratic leaders seemed hesitant to condemn the mayhem.

“I think they just don’t know what to say,” she said. “People are afraid to take a stance either way, but I do think it’s strange they’re all being so quiet. Our mayor has disappeared. It’s like, ‘Where is he?’”

On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Ferwerda was writing “Black Lives Matter” on her storefront in red paint. On Wednesday, after the fatal shooting the night before, she said she was most worried about the people from out of town who were driving around with powerful guns claiming to keep the peace.

She said she understood the looting and burning.

“I think the rage is justified,” she said. “Anyone who is paying attention should know it was going to explode at some point.”

Mr. Geraghty, a former Marine, said he was disturbed to see his town looking like “a war zone,” and he feared that the Democrats in charge were “letting people down big time.”

Listen to ‘The Daily’: On the Ground in Kenosha

Jacob Blake was shot in the back several times at point-blank range by the police. In the aftermath, unrest and violence have roiled the Wisconsin city.

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transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: On the Ground in Kenosha

Hosted by Michael Barbaro, produced by Daniel Guillemette, Austin Mitchell and Sydney Harper, and edited by M.J. Davis Lin and Lisa Tobin

Jacob Blake was shot in the back several times at point-blank range by the police. In the aftermath, unrest and violence have roiled the Wisconsin city.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

[music]

Today: The police shooting of Jacob Blake and the violent aftermath. My colleague, Julie Bosman, has been in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

It’s Thursday, August 27.

Julie, how did you first hear about this shooting?

julie bosman

So on Sunday night, I was home in Chicago. And a text popped up on my phone from a friend of mine. And when I looked at the text, I saw that it was a link to a video about an incident that had happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin — my hometown. And this is a cell phone video that was taken from an apartment window. And it’s looking down on an altercation happening in the street, involving a man that we will later learn is Jacob Blake.

archived recording

[PEOPLE SCREAMING]

julie bosman

And what you can see in this video is an S.U.V. There are several officers standing on a sidewalk right next to it. And Jacob Blake is seen walking along the passenger side of this S.U.V., away from the officers who are yelling at him. And at that point at least one officer points a gun at Jacob Blake. And Jacob Blake continues to walk around the front of the vehicle. He opens the driver’s side door. And then one of the officers shoots him several times in the back.

archived recording

[SIRENS BLARING]

julie bosman

And we later learned that he was taken to a hospital and that he survived the shooting.

archived recording 1

[PEOPLE YELLING]

archived recording 2

Y’all understand? Y’all understand? We’re tired of this shit.

julie bosman

By late Sunday evening, there were marches. There were demonstrations.

archived recording

[CHANTING] No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!

michael barbaro

And there was also unrest. There were trucks that were burned. There were fires that were set. People were throwing things at the police. It was a really tense scene.

And so what do you decide to do?

julie bosman

So first thing the next morning, got in my car, and drove north an hour and a half to Kenosha. I first went to the neighborhood where Jacob Blake was shot. And what I found there were neighbors sitting outside, talking to each other, just dazed by what had happened, trying to piece together the shooting.

michael barbaro

And what did you learn from talking to them about what had happened?

julie bosman

It seemed like a lot of neighbors had seen Jacob just before. They had seen him out on the front lawn barbecuing. They had seen him playing with his kids earlier that day. But just before the shooting, there had been some kind of disagreement between two people. And that’s when the police arrived on the scene. We know that the police were apparently summoned there to help. And then we know what we saw in the video. But it’s not clear yet what exactly happened in the minutes leading up to it.

michael barbaro

So Julie, as you’re talking to people and they’re trying to make sense of this shooting that’s happened in their neighborhood, what happens on Monday as the day unfolds?

julie bosman

The way that day kind of unfurled, it felt to me almost like one continuous protest. The protesting kind of never stopped. And by mid-afternoon on Monday, the mayor of Kenosha, John Antaramian, and had not yet made any public statement about what had happened in his city the night before. So he stepped out.

archived recording (john antaramian)

What I’m going to be talking about is basically what we were talking about inside.

julie bosman

At one point, he tried to speak to protesters.

archived recording (john antaramian)

Kenosha has a history of trying to do the right thing. We don’t know —

archived recording

[CROWD YELLING]

julie bosman

And he was really drowned out by people who are just furious over what had happened. And he tried to urge calm. He tried to send people the message that he was listening.

archived recording 1

You weren’t even willing to let me, who I came out to talk to you.

archived recording 2

You ain’t a Black life. You’re not a Black life.

archived recording 3

[YELLING]

julie bosman

But in the moment, it just didn’t feel like enough.

And he went inside the building.

michael barbaro

So after the mayor goes back inside, what ends up happening?

julie bosman

So on Monday evening, I was covering a protest at the park, outside of the courthouse. And what I saw were hundreds of people who were all chanting together Jacob Blake’s name and confronting the police.

archived recording

(CHANTING) Jacob Blake!

michael barbaro

Mhm.

archived recording 1

(CHANTING) Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!

julie bosman

And at this point, this was just a very, very chill protest. People were coming out of their houses and, you know, pumping their fists and honking their horns in agreement with the protest. And at one point, an older couple came outside and had a little bullhorn and they were chanting and cheering the protesters on. But you know, as the night wore on, a lot of people left. And the mood of the crowd changed. And it turned into a gathering with a much more destructive edge.

On Sheridan Road, people were starting fires. And there are these kind of old street lamps. And people were knocking over the street lamps so that they smashed into the street. They were throwing fireworks at the police, who at this point had been joined by National Guardsmen. And the police and the National Guard were trying to disperse the protesters without a lot of luck.

archived recording 1

Happy 2020, y’all.

archived recording 2

[CAR ALARM RINGING]

julie bosman

This went on for hours. And close to midnight, I had gotten back in my car. I was driving through the streets. And I saw huge billowing, pink-tinged smoke in the distance. And it honestly took me a minute just to process what was happening. Because I was driving in such a familiar place, a street that I have driven on hundreds of times in my life. And as I pulled up, parked the car and stepped outside, what I saw was an entire block on fire in the middle of a residential neighborhood. And I could see that neighbors were everywhere. They had brought their children out onto their front porches. They were standing in the middle of the street on the sidewalks, just staring. And when I started talking to people, I discovered that their reactions were really complicated.

michael barbaro

What do you mean?

julie bosman

So some people said, oh, my God. This is horrible. This is our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is burning. What is happening to our city? They told me what businesses were there. That it was a mattress store. That it was a Mexican restaurant. Someone told me that, you know, it was the little kind of cafe where he got his coffee every morning. And then a lot of people said, look. This is a totally appropriate response to what happened to Jacob Blake.

[music]

This is a totally appropriate response to the oppression of the Black community in this city and in this country. I talked to a man who was standing there smoking a cigarette and just said, look, I’m really sorry to see this, but if this is what it takes, then this is what it takes.

And then I got back in my car. And I called the Kenosha County Sheriff. And he said, basically, we’re just outnumbered. We only have about 200 police officers. And he said, we have National Guard. But we don’t have enough National Guardsmen. And we’ve got 9-1-1 calls pouring in all night. And we just kind of get there too late. So I realize that tomorrow is probably also going to be a long day. So I decided it was just time to get home.

michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

So Julie, what happens on Tuesday?

julie bosman

So on Tuesday afternoon, Jacob Blake’s family announced that they were going to hold a news conference outside of the courthouse.

So around 3:00 p.m., I’m outside of the courthouse with a bunch of other reporters, long line of TV cameras. And the family of Jacob Blake arrives.

archived recording

[INDISTINCT CHATTER] Some of them were crying, clutching each other, you know, obviously, very emotional.

archived recording (jacob blake sr.)

I’d like to thank everyone for coming out in support of my son, with this senseless attempted murder that was committed on him.

julie bosman

When Jacob Blake Sr. stepped forward —

archived recording (jacob blake sr.)

They — (CRYING) they shot my son.

julie bosman

He almost couldn’t speak.

archived recording (jacob blake sr.)

— seven times. Seven times.

Like he didn’t matter. But my son matters. He’s a human being. And he matters.

julie bosman

And then we heard from Julia Jackson, Jacob Blake’s mother.

archived recording (julia jackson)

As I was riding through here, through this city, I noticed a lot of damage. It doesn’t reflect my son or my family.

julie bosman

She mentioned the damage that she had been seeing around Kenosha. And she spoke very powerfully of reconciliation.

archived recording (julia jackson)

Do Jacob justice on this level and examine your hearts. We need healing.

julie bosman

And then we heard from one of his sisters.

archived recording (letetra wideman)

So many people have reached out to me, telling me they’re sorry that this happened to my family. Well, don’t be sorry. Because this has been happening to my family for a long time. Longer than I can account for. It happened to Emmett Till. Emmett Till is my family. Philando, Mike Brown. Sandra. This has been happening to my family. And I’ve shed tears for every single one of these people that it’s happened to. This is nothing new. I’m not sad. I’m not sorry. I’m angry. And I’m tired.

julie bosman

I think that she just really wanted people to hear that and understand that this was bigger than her brother.

michael barbaro

And what did the family say about Jacob Blake’s condition?

julie bosman

You know, for the last two days people had been asking, how is he doing? Is he going to survive this?

archived recording (patrick salvi jr.)

When at least seven, as many as eight bullets from point-blank range enter the human body and shred through the tissue of the human body —

julie bosman

They went into a lot of detail about what he was experiencing physically.

archived recording (patrick salvi jr.)

— that that can cause, and did, in this case, severe and likely permanent injury. He had a bullet go through some or all of his spinal cord.

julie bosman

One of the bullets had severed his spinal cord, which doctors believed would paralyze him partially, probably permanently. They said that it would take a miracle for him to walk again.

archived recording (patrick salvi jr.)

He has holes in his stomach. He had to have nearly his entire colon and small intestines removed.

julie bosman

They really wanted to drive home the physicality of that, of the suffering that he is enduring. And they wanted to really put those facts out there and not hide them.

archived recording (patrick salvi jr.)

Jacob has a long road ahead of him, a lot of rehabilitation. You heard he’s in surgery right now. And it is not going to be his last surgery.

julie bosman

They also said that he has been awake. He was conscious. One of the questions from reporters was, what does he think of all of this?

archived recording (julia jackson)

He does not know what’s going on.

julie bosman

The answer from the family was really, he doesn’t understand that this is going on. He’s heavily medicated. He’s in a lot of pain, that he was still fighting for his life.

michael barbaro

So he has no idea, in the condition he’s in, that he has become a symbol, a very powerful symbol.

julie bosman

Yeah. It appears not. It appears that he is largely unaware of everything that’s happening.

archived recording (julia jackson)

The first thing he did when he looked at me was cry. And then begin to say, “I’m sorry about all of this.” I asked him, “Jacob, did you shoot yourself in the back?” He looked at me and he said, “no.” I said then, “Why are you sorry?” He says, “Because I don’t want a burden on anybody. I want to be with my children. And I don’t think I’m going to walk again, Mom.”

julie bosman

So I left that news conference and prepared for the evening ahead.

julie bosman

I grew up here. And I’ve never seen so many people in the downtown area at one time.

julie bosman

And the evening began with a lot of gatherings near the courthouse.

julie bosman

This is really kind of the heart of where all the protests have been happening in Kenosha.

julie bosman

A lot of protest leaders were talking to the crowds and saying this is a night that we want things to be peaceful. Let’s focus on why we’re all here. And around 8 o’clock, everyone’s phones started screeching.

archived recording

If you continue to stay here, that results in unlawful assembly.

julie bosman

And it was an emergency alert from the city, warning everyone that there was a curfew in effect. And they were required to go home.

archived recording

We are asking that you please go home.

julie bosman

A lot of people did peel off at that point. But about 150 people remained in the park.

julie bosman

There’s a lot going on. And it’s sort of surreal, actually.

julie bosman

This evening felt a little different. It felt much more tense.

julie bosman

Tonight, it feels rather lawless. There are people riding motorcycles around on the square. There are armored vehicles driving over the square. And people have long guns that they’re holding openly.

julie bosman

There were a couple of guys who had come to the park who were decked out in camo flak jackets. And they were carrying long guns. And when I went to talk to them, they told me that they were part of a Facebook group that had started that day, which was a group of mostly men who had decided that they were going to defend their city that night, that they were sick of watching what had happened on their phones from their homes. They were sick of, you know, being afraid of fires and destruction. And they were going to come out.

And they had chosen to meet up in the very place where the protesters were. They told me that they were not opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement, that they respected the right of the protesters to be there. But they felt that the B.L.M. movement had been hijacked by agitators from the outside.

michael barbaro

And Julie, what did it mean to them, as best as you could tell, to defend their city?

julie bosman

They were just very simply going to divide up, stand on street corners, stand there with guns and use them if necessary. They just said, look, if the police aren’t going to protect us, then we’ll protect ourselves.

michael barbaro

So at this point, you have protesters on the street because of this police shooting. And now, you have citizens with guns, acting like police officers, in their minds, to protect the community. So what happens next?

[crowd yelling]
julie bosman

Well, as you can imagine, it’s a very volatile mix. And as we proceeded through the night —

julie bosman

It’s Tuesday night, about 9:30. And for close to an hour now —

[fireworks]
julie bosman

Excuse me. We’ve been in a bit of a standoff with police and demonstrators facing off against each other.

julie bosman

A lot of people who had remained were throwing water bottles and engaging with the police in a sometimes violent way.

archived recording (julie bosman)

And the protesters have been throwing lit fireworks at the police. And the police have now begun to respond with quite a bit of tear gas and with rubber bullets.

julie bosman

For hours, this back and forth continued, of people in the crowd throwing things at the police —

[fireworks]
julie bosman

— sending live fireworks that way, the fireworks exploding right next to the police officers, who were all in riot gear and shields. And —

[tear gas exploding]
julie bosman

— the police finally responded with enough tear gas, like, a pretty overwhelming amount of tear gas on the crowd, that finally pushed everyone out of the park.

julie bosman

[COUGHING] Excuse me.

michael barbaro

And what happens next?

julie bosman

What happened next is that the crowd did begin to disperse a bit. And I ended up joining some of the people who had remained in the crowd further down the street, where they had started to gather at this gas station.

[yelling]
[fireworks]
julie bosman

There were these groups of men in militia gear. They were holding long guns. And they were confronting the people in the crowd.

Sometimes there was some shoving. They were yelling at each other. They were circling each other. And at one point, a white man yelled at a group of black men and basically dared them to shoot at him, using a racial slur.

speaker

Shoot me, [EXPLETIVE] Shoot me, [EXPLETIVE]!

julie bosman

It felt like the situation was a little out of control. So I decided to get in my car and leave.

[crowd yelling]
julie bosman

And it was just a short while later, less than a half hour later, when I had started watching the live streams on Facebook and saw that there were reports of a shooting.

archived recording

By police — you see the man running down the street. This is after he allegedly shot someone in the stomach at a gas station. He’s walking down the street.

julie bosman

Very very close to that gas station on that same street. And it looked from the videos that it was involving the same people.

archived recording

And then what transpires is you see him firing at people as they are coming up and what appears to be trying to grab him to stop. And you see one person fall on the ground. You see another gunshot go off. You can hear a lot of yelling. And after —

michael barbaro

Julie, what do we know about this shooting? And do we know who did the shooting?

julie bosman

So what we know so far is that three people were shot. Two of those people died.

michael barbaro

Hm.

julie bosman

We also know that police have now arrested a teenager they believe is the shooter. And he’s a 17-year-old white male from Antioch, Illinois, which is just across the state border. And we don’t know why he was there. But authorities say that they are investigating whether he was a member of a vigilante group. And his social media accounts appear to show an intense affinity for guns, for law enforcement and for President Trump.

michael barbaro

Julie, I’m mindful that Jacob Blake’s mother had implored the community to have peaceful protests. She seemed very upset by the destruction. And now, of course, it’s not just destruction, there have been two deaths.

julie bosman

Yeah, I mean, I think that what happened on Tuesday night was incredibly tragic. For a lot of people, it compounds the tragedy of what happened on Sunday to Jacob Blake. And I think a lot of people are just grappling with how to move forward with these demonstrations.

There’s a lot of worry right now in Kenosha among people who’ve been out here night after night, who’ve been trying to bring attention to the issue of police brutality. How does this change the debate? How is it going to be manipulated politically? You have the Republican National Convention happening this week.

michael barbaro

Right.

julie bosman

President Trump said that he was going to send in federal troops to Kenosha. The governor of the state said that he was going to send 500 additional National Guardsmen. Does all of this muddy the message somehow? And I think that’s one thing that a lot of people here are grappling with at the moment.

michael barbaro

Julie, you’re talking about the message that will emerge from Kenosha. And it strikes me that one of the things that’s different in this case, regardless of what images come to dominate how people see what’s happened there, is that the person at the center of this case is still alive. He’s sitting in a hospital. And while he may not understand what he represents to the world, presumably he will eventually understand it. And he will be drawn into the way that this story is being told. He will talk about it. And so he will be a living symbol, unlike George Floyd, unlike Breonna Taylor, unlike Rayshard Brooks.

julie bosman

And I think that’s one of the things that makes this so unique.

This whole week, the city of Kenosha has been turned inside out over this shooting. But we have not yet heard from the man who is, like you said, in the hospital bed. And we don’t know yet what he thinks about all this. We don’t know yet what he has to say about it, how he’ll choose to participate in it. And in the end, it will be his story to tell.

michael barbaro

Julie, thank you very much.

julie bosman

Thank you, Michael.

michael barbaro

On Wednesday night, the Wisconsin Department of Justice offered new details about the shooting of Jacob Blake. It said that police were summoned to his block based on a call from a woman, who was not identified, reporting that her boyfriend was not supposed to be on the premises. During the encounter that followed, the statement said, police fired a taser at Blake while trying to subdue him, but failed to stop him. It was then, as Blake walked to the driver’s side door of his car, opened it and leaned in, that an officer shot him seven times.

At some point, the statement said, Blake told police he had a knife in his possession, which was eventually recovered from inside his car. What role, if any, that a knife played in the shooting remains unclear. Later on Wednesday night, the U.S. Department of Justice said that it would open a federal civil rights investigation into Blake’s shooting.

Meantime, athletes from the N.B.A., W.N.B.A., Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer all boycotted games on Wednesday in response to Blake’s shooting. The N.B.A. walkout was organized by the Milwaukee Bucks of Wisconsin in a move that stunned the league.

We’ll be right back.

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording (john bel edwards)

So look, this is a very serious storm. In the five years I’ve been governor, I don’t believe I’ve had a press conference where it was my intention to convey the sense of urgency that I am trying to convey right now.

michael barbaro

On Wednesday night, Hurricane Laura, a major Category 4 storm, was headed for the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, prompting dire warnings from state leaders.

archived recording (john bel edwards)

And understand, our state hasn’t seen a storm surge like this in many, many decades. We haven’t seen —

michael barbaro

The National Hurricane Center said that the storm has sustained winds of up to 150 miles per hour and could deliver, quote, “Unsurvivable storm surges that could reach 40 miles inland.” It is expected to make landfall early this morning. And —

archived recording (mike pence)

The violence must stop. Whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha, too many heroes have died defending our freedom to see Americans strike each other down.

michael barbaro

On the third night of the Republican National Convention, Vice President Mike Pence denounced this summer’s violent unrest in America’s cities and cast himself and President Trump as firm allies of the police.

archived recording (mike pence)

We will have law and order on the streets of this country for every American of every race and creed and color. [CHEERING]

michael barbaro

In his speech, Pence framed the election as a choice about the kind of country and economy that America will become once the pandemic is over.

archived recording (mike pence)

On November 3, you need to ask yourself, who do you trust to rebuild this economy? A career politician who presided over the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, or a proven leader who created the greatest economy in the world? The choice is clear. To bring America all the way back, we need four more years of President Donald Trump in the White House. [CHEERING]

michael barbaro

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

Politics for him had long been like a sport he did not follow. In his late 20s, he voted for Barack Obama, the first vote of his life. He did not vote in 2016, and he called the president’s handling of the coronavirus “laughable.”

Mr. Geraghty said he disliked how Mr. Trump talked but said the Democratic Party’s vision for governing seemed limited to attacking him and calling him a racist, a charge being leveled so constantly that it was having the effect of alienating, instead of persuading, people. And the idea that Democrats alone were morally pure on race annoyed him.

“The Democratic agenda to me right now is America is systematically racist and evil and the only people who can fix it are Democrats,” he said. “That’s the vibe I get.”

Mr. Geraghty said he understood peaceful protesting but felt frustrated with Democratic leaders who seem afraid of confronting crowds when things turn violent. He was angry at the statement by Gov. Tony Evers on Sunday, which in his view took sides against the police in a knee-jerk way that worsened the situation. On Tuesday, Mr. Evers, a Democrat, did condemn the looting and fires, while reiterating protesters’ rights to assemble.

“I’m not 100 percent sure of anything yet,” Mr. Geraghty said of November. “But as of now I’m really not happy about how Democrats are handling any of this.”

Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Mr. Biden on Wednesday denounced systemic racism and police brutality as he also sharply condemned the destruction and violence unfolding in Kenosha.

“As I said after George Floyd’s murder, protesting brutality is a right and absolutely necessary,” Mr. Biden said. “Burning down communities is not protest, it’s needless violence. Violence that endangers lives. Violence that guts businesses, and shutters businesses, that serve the community. That’s wrong.”

Meanwhile, President Trump promised on Twitter to restore “LAW AND ORDER” in Kenosha by sending in troops. “We will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets,” Mr. Trump wrote.

With the unrest in Kenosha happening the same week as the Republican National Convention, local events were threatening to merge with national politics. James Wigderson, editor of a conservative website in Waukesha, Wis., said the chaos reinforced the message of the Republicans this week that the Democrats were not fit to govern.

“Whether it’s fair or not, they see this all as one monolith: From Biden on down to the guy throwing the brick at the cop,” said Mr. Wigderson, who has been critical of Mr. Trump. “As a result, they are more motivated not to let those people win.”

That was all the more true for committed Republicans in Kenosha. Don Biehn, 62, owner of a flooring company, was standing in line at a gun store on Tuesday afternoon. He said that he had never bought a pistol before, but that he had a business to protect. A former county board supervisor, Mr. Biehn said he had been calling county and state officials for days, trying to explain how grave the situation was.

Neither John Antaramian, the mayor of Kenosha, nor Jim Kreuser, the county executive, responded to requests for comment. (The positions are nonpartisan, but both men previously served in the State Assembly as Democrats.)

“There’s people running all over with guns — it’s like some Wild West town,” Mr. Biehn said. “We are just waiting here like sitting ducks waiting to get picked off.”

He added: “It’s chaos — everybody is afraid.”

Mr. Trump, he said, “was not my man,” but now he is grateful he is president.

He said he seemed to understand in a way that other politicians did not.

“There’s nobody fighting back,” he said. “Nobody is paying attention to what’s going on.”

Scott Haight, who was boarding up a line of businesses in a Kenosha strip mall on Tuesday, said he blamed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, a Democrat, for what he said was irresponsibly stirring up emotion. (On Monday, Mr. Barnes said the shooting “wasn’t an accident.”)

“It’s like ‘What, are you trying to burn our city down?’” Mr. Haight said.

Mr. Haight, 59, said he was a “lifelong Democrat” but had decided not to vote this year.

“It’s not worth it,” he said. “One’s as bad as the other.”

Priscella Gazda, a waitress at a pizza restaurant in Kenosha, was having the opposite reaction. She said she had voted only once in her life — for Mr. Obama in 2008. Her son has Type 1 diabetes and was hoping for health insurance.

“I’m not the one who would ever vote,” she said.

But after the chaos in her town, this year is different.

“I am going to vote for Trump,” she said. “He seems to be more about the American people and what we need.”

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