President Donald Trump announced a crackdown on nationwide anti-racism protests in a surreal speech Monday from the White House Rose Garden while police flash-bang explosions could be heard nearby.
Speaking as police deployed tear gas on protesters just outside the White House, Trump vowed harsher action against protesters. The president made no mention of violent actions taken by police in recent days against protesters, nor did he make any call for national unity. Instead, he said he would mobilize “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, including your Second Amendment rights.”
He specifically called on governors across the country to deploy the National Guard and vowed to deploy the U.S. military if states refused to comply.
“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” Trump said.
Activating the military would require Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that allows the president to deploy active-duty military on U.S. soil. The statute was last used during the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles over the acquittals of police officers involved in the brutal beating of Rodney King, a Black motorist.
Protesters were peacefully gathered outside the White House even as Trump began speaking. Authorities, however, fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades in an attempt to move them away from the area before the president’s address began.
The public areas around the White House, particularly Lafayette Square, have been host to demonstrations for four days. On Sunday night, peaceful gatherings turned violent as police clashed with some protesters and several nearby buildings were vandalized or burned.
Calling himself “your law-and-order president,” Trump pledged to escalate efforts to clamp down on the protests in Washington.
“As we speak, 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,” Trump said.
As his remarks ended, Trump said he was leaving to go pay his respects “to a very, very special place.” He later walked through Lafayette Park, which had minutes earlier been filled with demonstrators, on his way to St. John’s Church, where he posed for a photo while holding up a Bible and then left.
The president’s remarks came amid nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of American cities demanding justice for Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality. In many of those cities, police have deployed violent tactics to attempt to quell demonstrations, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas, pepper-spraying crowds and hitting people with batons.
Trump has been at odds with several governors as protests over Floyd’s death have spread across the nation. In a call on Monday, he said state leaders were “weak,” urging them to arrest demonstrators and “put them in jail for 10 years.”
“You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time,” the president said during the call. “They’re going to run over you. You’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”
The language built on Trump’s vocal denouncements of demonstrators as “thugs.”
In a widely criticized missive on Twitter, the president threatened violent intervention and said he would send in the National Guard should protests continue.
“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he said of the rising protests in Minneapolis at the time.
Twitter quickly appended a note to the tweet, saying it violated rules about glorifying violence.