President Trump on Monday said he would mobilize “all available federal resources, civilian and military” to clamp down on protests across the country, declaring himself the “president of law and order” as police aggressively dispersed protesters gathered outside the White House.
Trump said he was dispatching the military across Washington, D.C., and urged governors nationwide to “dominate” their streets with National Guard deployments. If they refused, he said, he would send in troops to American cities.
“Mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled,” he said. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the U.S. military and quickly solve the problem for them."
Trump said he was dispatching “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting vandalism and the wanton destruction of property” in the nation’s capital.
The comments offered a stunning split-screen to the strife that has engulfed the nation following the death of George Floyd. While Trump spoke in the Rose Garden, hundreds of people were gathered just outside of Lafayette Park across the street from the White House to protest for a fourth consecutive night.
Several loud bangs echoed just before Trump took the podium as law enforcement fired tear gas into a crowd of peaceful protesters. Moments earlier, Attorney General William Barr was spotted reviewing the law enforcement set-up at the park.
A city-wide curfew instituted by the D.C.’s Democratic mayor was set to go into effect at 7 p.m., and National Guard troops had assembled in the nation’s capital to back up law enforcement. New York City and other metropolitan areas had imposed similar curfews in an attempt to contain the unruly protests.
Trump said the D.C. curfew would be "strictly enforced."
Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed in Minneapolis police custody one week ago after a white officer knelt on his neck. Video captured by onlookers spread like wildfire across the internet, provoking massive outrage across the United States.
The president’s Rose Garden speech came after debate over whether he should deliver a formal address in light of the turmoil that has engulfed the nation.
But his prepared remarks only briefly touched on Floyd’s death — and did not cover the unrest over police brutality leading up to the protests. Instead, they committed to Trump’s insistence that “law and order” win out over unruly demonstrators.
“Americans were rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death of George Floyd. My administration is fully committed that for George’s family justice will be served. He will not have died in vain,” Trump said. “But we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob."
He cited several examples in his speech of aggression toward law enforcement in recent days and vandalism of local businesses. He did not mention any instances of police advancing on protesters or injuries or deaths among activists.
Trump mentioned a fire set at the historic St. John’s Church close to the White House, calling that and other developments acts of “domestic terror.”
“I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” the president said. “But in recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa and others.”
“I want the organizers of this terror to be on notice that you will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail,” he continued.
Trump earlier Monday told governors on a conference call that they need to “dominate” the streets with National Guard troops and accused them of being “weak” in their initial handling of the demonstrations. His rhetoric prompted criticism from some Democratic governors, who warned he was inflaming tensions and making the situation worse.
The president’s Rose Garden remarks were his first on camera comments since Saturday evening when he addressed Floyd’s death and subsequent protests at the beginning of remarks in Cape Canaveral, Fla., following a historic SpaceX launch. Trump called Floyd’s killing a “grave tragedy” while rebuking protesters causing destruction, blaming the violent demonstrations on antifa and “left-wing groups.”