President Donald Trump promised a forceful response to violent protests across the United States and threatened to deploy U.S. military forces if cities and states fail to contain unruly demonstrations touched off by the death of a black man in police custody.
During hastily arranged remarks Monday evening, Trump pledged to do everything he could to preserve order, including in Washington, where vandalism, looting and fires overshadowed three days of peaceful protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
“I am mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans,” Trump said from the Rose Garden of the White House.
“As we speak,” Trump said, “I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily-armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property.”
He did not elaborate, but moments before, as White House officials prepared for Trump to speak, security forces used tear gas and concussion grenades to clear peaceful protesters from streets around Lafayette Square across from the White House.
After his brief address, Trump made an unannounced visit on foot to Saint John’s Episcopal Church less than a day after it was damaged by fire during demonstrations late Sunday night.
Trump has seized on protests against police brutality toward people of color to portray himself as an icon of law and order, eschewing the soothing role past presidents have adopted in similar moments as he seeks to turn the election-year conversation from his widely panned handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
If localities refused to take “necessary” actions to stop protests, Trump said, “I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
“We are ending the riots, we are ending the lawlessness,” Trump said.
The Pentagon said 600 to 800 National Guard troops are being sent to Washington as Trump seeks to quell another night of protests.
An active-duty unit from outside the Washington region has been moved into the area and put on heightened alert, but wasn’t immediately deployed into the capital, according to Pentagon officials.
Pentagon officials said the primary role of the new National Guard forces would be to defend national monuments, protect the White House and coordinate with Washington’s police.
To dispatch troops, Trump is considering relying on the 1807 Insurrection Act, which authorizes the president to deploy the military within the U.S. to deal with civil disorder, according to sources familiar with the matter.
“I will fight to protect you,” Trump said at the White House. “I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.”
Violent protests outside the White House on Friday prompted security officials to take Trump to a secure area as a condition “red” was declared.
On a Monday call with governors and law enforcement officials, Trump delivered his most strident message yet as cities across the country impose curfews and governors deploy the National Guard to try to head off another destructive evening. Many other peaceful protests are also underway mourning the death of Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis and demanding an end of police violence directed at blacks and other minorities.
“You have to dominate,” Trump told governors and law enforcement. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.” He called the governors “weak.”
At the same time, he said Americans had been justifiably outraged by Floyd’s death and he supports the right to protest peacefully.
Police in Minneapolis on Friday arrested Derek Chauvin, the officer who was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest.
Floyd, who was on the ground and handcuffed at the time, died after saying he couldn’t breathe. The episode prompted a nationwide outcry and set off protests around the country. In Minneapolis, some of those protests turned violent, and on Thursday the police station where Chauvin worked was set alight.
At the White House, there’s been particular concern about nearby protests that have led to looting, arson and clashes with police. Officials in Washington plan to enforce a mandatory curfew from 7 p.m. for the next two days.
Trump held a bible outside St. John’s during his visit there on Monday evening. The Episcopal bishop of Washington, who oversees the church, Mariann Budde, denounced the clearing of the park for the event.
“The soul of the nation is at stake right now,” the bishop said on CNN.
And Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, said in a tweet that “a full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House,” calling the response “shameful.”
I imposed a curfew at 7pm. A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!
DC residents — Go home. Be safe
— Muriel Bowser #StayHomeDC at 7 pm (@MurielBowser) June 2, 2020