President Trump on Wednesday said he doesn't think it will be necessary to send military forces to U.S. cities to quell protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.
"It depends. I don’t think we’ll have to. We have very strong powers to do it. The National Guard is customary, and we have a very powerful National Guard," Trump told Sean Spicer, his former press secretary, in an interview on Newsmax.
"As far as going beyond that? Sure, if it was necessary," Trump added. "We have antifa. We have anarchists. We have terrorists, looters. We have a lot of bad people in those groups."
Trump's comments, which were recorded earlier Wednesday, came on the same day Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he opposes invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that would allow the president to deploy active-duty troops around the country to respond to the protests.
“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations," Esper said. "We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."
Trump on Monday threatened to deploy military forces to cities that do not bring protesters in line, though his comments to Spicer indicate he is unlikely to follow through.
The president earlier this week ridiculed state and local leaders as "weak," urging them to "dominate" their streets and clamp down on protests. Trump has made an example of Washington, D.C., which does not have the same rights as states to reject the National Guard or other troop deployments, by mobilizing military personnel around the District to police demonstrations.