June 2 (Bloomberg) – President Donald Trump promised a forceful response to violent protests across the country and threatened to deploy the U.S. military 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 at 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.”
Moments before the president spoke, as White House officials prepared for his remarks, 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, he made an unnannounced visit on foot to the historic 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 further disturbances. Their primary role will be to defend national monuments, protect the White House and coordinate with Washington’s police, according to the officials at the Defense Department.
At the same time, 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 city, according to the officials.
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 three people familiar with the matter.
Federal law generally bars the military from enforcing laws at home, leaving policing to state and local authorities. That ban on using the military to enforce civilian laws includes the National Guard. The separation of duties stretches back to the Posse Comitatus Act, passed in the aftermath of the Civil War.
“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.”
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 also are 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 would 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 for more than eight minutes 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 burned.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, is set to deliver a speech on civil unrest in Philadelphia on Tuesday. On Monday, he held his first public campaign event in more than two months and met with black leaders at the Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
Biden was pressed to detail what he’d do to address injustice, and said he would set up a national police oversight board in his first 100 days as president and would ensure coronavirus relief efforts would “deal with institutional racism.”
At the White House, there’s been particular concern about nearby protests that have led to looting, arson and clashes with police. Violent protests outside the White House on Friday prompted security officials to take Trump to a secure area after a condition “red” was declared.
Officials in Washington plan to enforce a mandatory curfew starting at 7 p.m. local time for the next two days.
On Monday evening, Trump held a bible outside St. John’s during his visit there. 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 protesters in front of the White House.” She called that response “shameful.”