Trump threatens to deploy military unless states halt violent protests
Amid racial unrest across the country, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday declared himself “the president of law and order” and threatened to deploy the military to American cities to quell a rise of violent protests.
As Trump spoke, an incredible TV split screen developed around the White House. While he addressed the nation in the White House’s idyllic Rose Garden, a series of military vehicles rolled out front on Pennsylvania Avenue and both military police and law enforcement clashed with protesters at Lafayette Park.
Those demonstrators were cleared so Trump could walk across the park to St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as the “Church of the Presidents,” which suffered fire damage in a protest this week. Holding a Bible, he then stood with several of his Cabinet members as the cameras clicked.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump declared. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
Trump said he would mobilize “thousands and thousands” of soldiers to keep the peace if governors did not use the National Guard to shut down the protests.
Loud tear gas explosions could be heard as authorities moved what appeared to be peaceful protests in the park. The escalation came just after Attorney General William Barr came to the park to survey the demonstrators.
According to senior defence officials, between 600 and 800 National Guard members from five states were being sent to Washington to provide assistance. Those troops were either already on the ground or will arrive by midnight.
Under the Civil War-era Posse Comitatus Act, federal troops are prohibited from performing domestic law enforcement actions such as making arrests, seizing property or searching people.
In extreme cases, however, the president can invoke the Insurrection Act, also from the Civil War, which allows the use of active-duty or National Guard troops for law enforcement.
The officials said that some of the National Guard in the capital will be armed and others will not. They said that the D.C. guard members do not have non-lethal weapons. The military police that are visible in the city are members of the Guard.
Demands tougher crackdowns
Earlier on Monday, Trump derided many governors as “weak” and demanded tougher crackdowns on burning and stealing by some demonstrators in the aftermath of violent protests in dozens of American cities.
Trump spoke to governors on a video teleconference that also included law enforcement and national security officials, telling the state leaders they “have to get much tougher.”
“Most of you are weak,” Trump said. “You have to arrest people.”
WATCH | Trump lambastes governors on conference call about the protests:
U.S. President Donald Trump tells governors in a conference call to use the National Guard to control the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd during an arrest. 0:34
People across the country have been protesting the death of a black man, George Floyd, during an arrest in Minneapolis one week ago. A white police officer is seen on citizen-shot video kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.
Floyd was in handcuffs at the time. He died after the white officer ignored bystander shouts to get off him and Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe. His death has sparked days of protests in Minneapolis that have spread to cities around America, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, and New York.
The scale of the protests has rivaled the historic demonstrations of the civil rights and Vietnam War eras. At least 4,400 people have been arrested for offences such as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count compiled by The Associated Press.
WATCH | Brother of George Floyd visits site of death:
Friends, supporters gather to mark the site where George Floyd was killed in police custody. 2:56
The Trump administration has portrayed the protest violence as the work of outside groups and extremists.
A bellicose Trump urged the governors to deploy the National Guard, which he credited for helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis. He demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
“You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” said Trump. “We’re doing it in Washington, D.C. We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before.”
WATCH | U.S. cities see more protests, violent unrest over George Floyd’s death:
Protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere continue, as cries to prosecute the other three police officers at the scene during the death of George Floyd continue. There is a growing memorial for Floyd at the corner where he was pinned down by police until he reportedly stopped breathing. 6:32
The president told the governors they were making themselves “look like fools” for not calling up more of the National Guard as a show for force on city streets.
U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, who was also on the call, told governors that a joint terrorist task force would be used to track agitators and urged local officials to “dominate” the streets and control, not react to crowds. He urged the governors to “go after troublemakers.”
Trump’s angry exhortations at the nation’s governors came after a Sunday night of escalating violence, images of fires and looting and clashes with police filling the nation’s airwaves and overshadowing the largely peaceful protests. The protests had grown so heated Friday night that the Secret Service rushed the president to an underground bunker previously used during terrorist attacks.
On Monday, Trump also spoke of trying to criminalize flag-burning. The Supreme Court has conservative new members since it last ruled on that issue, and Trump said that “I think it’s time to review that again.”