President Trump said Monday he would deploy the military against protesters if local officials cannot stop violence that has erupted in some areas. “I will fight to protect you — I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” Mr. Trump said.
While only states can activate the National Guard, Mr. Trump said he would deploy “thousands and thousands” of heavily armed soldiers to Washington D.C. About 200 troops were moved out of Fort Bragg to deploy to the Washington area to be ready on short notice if needed, CBS News’ David Martin reported.
“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 United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Mr. Trump said. “I am also taking swift and decisive action to protect our great capital, Washington, D.C. What happened in the city last night was a total disgrace. 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.”
The president made the announcement amid the backdrop of tear gas and flash bangs on the other side of the White House in Lafayette Park. Shortly before the president spoke and declared himself an “ally of peaceful protesters,” demonstrators described as peaceful and journalists across from the White House were tear-gassed, clearing them from the area.
Democrats quickly denounced the president’s statement.
“The fascist speech Donald Trump just delivered verged on a declaration of war against American citizens. I fear for our country tonight and will not stop defending America against Trump’s assault,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden tweeted.
“These are not the words of a president. They are the words of a dictator,” Democratic Senator Kamala Harris wrote on Twitter.
The president had been criticized by even some of his usual defenders for staying in the White House since his trip to the Florida space launch.
After his statement, the president and his staff walked through a cleared-out Lafayette Park and took photos in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, whose basement was set ablaze Sunday night. Mr. Trump held up a Bible as he stood in front of the church.
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., said she was “outraged” by Mr. Trump’s visit to the church.
“The president just used a Bible … and one of the churches of my diocese without permission as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything our churches stand for … I am outraged,” she told CNN afterward.
“The president did not pray when he came to St. John’s … nor did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now and in particular, the people of color in our nation who wonder if anyone in public power will ever acknowledge their sacred worth,” she added
White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that “the perimeter was expanded to help enforce the 7 p.m. curfew in the same area where rioters attempted to burn down one of our nation’s most historic churches the night before. Protesters were given three warnings by the U.S. Park Police.”
Mr. Trump said he is 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, including your Second Amendment rights.” The Justice Department reiterated that sentiment in a statement later.
“Today, President Trump directed Attorney General Barr to lead federal law enforcement efforts to assist in the restoration of order to the District of Columbia,” Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said. “Beginning tonight, the Department of Justice has deployed all of its law enforcement components – FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals, and BOP – and is closely coordinating with the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security to maximize federal security presence throughout the District. The Department is working hand-in-hand with the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, the Federal Protective Service, the U.S. Secret Service, and the D.C. National Guard.”
The president vowed that George Floyd, whose death sparked many of the protests nationwide, “will not have died in vain.” Mr. Trump then quickly pivoted to ending the violence the streets, saying the nation is under siege by ill-intended actors and listing some of the criminal acts and vandalism that have taken place across the country over the last several days.
“These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror,” Mr. Trump said.
On a call with governors Monday, the president called them “weak” and “fools” for not cracking down harder on the civil unrest gripping their cities.