President Donald Trump threatened to deploy the US military to end “riots and lawlessness” across the country in a Rose Garden address punctuated by the sound of explosions as federal officers dispersed peaceful demonstrators just outside the White House gates.
Trump called on governors and mayors to “dominate the streets” and announced that he was sending thousands of heavily armed military personnel into the nation’s capital after days of violent outbursts following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The comments preceded another night of sometimes-violent unrest in US cities, including New York, where looting and arrests continued despite a curfew. Macy’s iconic flagship store on 34th Street was among the businesses breached, according to the Associated Press.
After speaking, Trump took an unannounced walk across the street from the White House through Lafayette Square — with tear gas hanging in the air that had been used to clear away protesters — to visit Saint John’s Episcopal Church. The house of worship, known as “The Church of Presidents,” had been damaged in a fire the previous night, as police and protesters clashed in the streets of Washington. At the church, Trump held a Bible he had brought from the White House in the air and gathered top aides to pose for photos.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
The president’s words and actions drew immediate outcries from his critics, who argued that Trump had only further inflamed tensions and undercut his claim — made as flash-bang grenades detonated mere blocks away — that he was “an ally of all peaceful protesters.” Democratic lawmakers said they were alarmed by Trump’s threat to dispatch the US military against Americans demonstrating against police brutality.
But the president made clear that the show of force was intended to show that his patience had run out over three days of protests that at one point flared violently enough to drive Trump into an underground security bunker.
Re-establishing a sense of control is crucial for a president who has been widely faulted for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and paralysed the economy. Trump and his aides believe the protests are an opportunity to win over voters frustrated by the destruction caused by some of the participants.
In a conference call with governors, Trump signaled his desire to appear more in control, demanding the state officials — who he labeled as “weak” — toughen their response to the demonstrations. “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.”
The president and other White House officials didn’t answer questions about what authority he would use to deploy the military outside the federally-controlled capital city, but three people familiar with the matter said Trump was considering invoking the Insurrection Act.