Calling violent protests 'acts of domestic terror,' Trump says he'll send in military if they aren't controlledJune 1, 2020
David Jackson and Michael Collins USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – In dramatic fashion, President Donald Trump announced Monday that he is sending additional federal resources to help the nation’s capital city quell violent protests – and then walked across the street to visit a historic church burned during the unrest.
Declaring himself "the president of law and order," Trump said during a Rose Garden address that he is dispatching “thousands and thousands” of military personnel and law enforcement personnel to Washington, D.C., to stop rioting, looting, vandalism and destruction of property.
Trump also urged governors to use as many National Guard troops as possible to control violence and warned if they didn't, he would deploy the U.S. military "and quickly solve the problem for them."
"These are not acts of peaceful protest," Trump said of the unrest. "These are acts of domestic terror."
Immediately after his remarks, Trump walked across nearby Lafayette Park and visited St. John's Church, which was set on fire by protesters Sunday night. Trump held up a Bible in front of the boarded-up church, which is referred to as the "church of presidents." St. John's was built in 1815 and has been attended at least once by every president since James Madison.
Trump's actions come after six days of protests and riots in cities across the country following the death of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died last week while in police custody. Police officer Derrick Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd's death.
Just minutes before Trump spoke in the Rose Garden and headed to St. John's, law enforcement officers cleared Lafayette Park with tear gas, rubber bullets, shields and horses. Though the Rose Garden was not within view of the protesters, reporters awaiting Trump’s speech reported hearing a series of loud booms.
Critics suggested the decision to clear the park was linked to Trump's visit to the church.
"Were thousands of peaceful protestors just tear gassed so Trump could have a photo op?" tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a communications director for former President Barack Obama.
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, also slammed Trump's visit to St. John's as a "photo opp."
"Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice – right after using military force to clear peaceful protesters out of the area – is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen," he said. "This only underscores the president’s complete lack of compassion for black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism."
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump developed a plan to provide more federal help to cities dealing with the unrest during meetings with Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley.
"There will be additional federal assets deployed across the nation," she said. "There will be a central command center in conjunction with the state and local governments."
Trump is also considering invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 federal law that would allow him to deploy active-duty U.S. troops to respond to protests in cities. It was last invoked in 1992 for the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.
Trump made the announcement hours after urging governors to accept federal help. The president told the state executives that most of them have been "weak" in failing to confront violent demonstrators.
"You have to dominate," he said, according to audio of the meeting obtained by CBS News. "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. You have to dominate."
McEnany later said the focus of the call "was the National Guard, encouraging deployment far more than the 17,000 out there and utilizing them this evening certainly."
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Some governors criticized Trump's criticism, with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, describing his comments as "deeply disturbing."
"The president repeatedly and viciously attacked governors, who are doing everything they can to keep the peace while fighting a once-in-a-generation global pandemic," Whitmer said in a statement. “The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division."