President Trump vowed Monday night to put an end to the violent protests over the killing of George Floyd, delivering a forceful statement from the White House Rose Garden as Washington law enforcement officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of protesters gathering a block away.
The president waited until just minutes before a 7 p.m. ET curfew was set to go into effect in the nation’s capital to deliver his six-minute statement. It came after two nights of looting, vandalism and violent clashes between police and protesters in the District of Columbia.
“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” Trump said, as microphones picking up the sounds of the clashes just beyond the White House. “But in recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsons, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa and others.”
Demonstrations against police brutality have erupted in dozens of U.S. cities, and the president has responded by expressing dismay at Floyd’s death while urging harsh measures against those he calls “thugs,” warning that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” On Monday, Trump said he would deploy the military to restore order in states where governors and mayors failed to establish “overwhelming law enforcement presence.”
“I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America. 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, including your Second Amendment rights,” Trump said.
In an extraordinary split-screen moment on cable news, Trump’s Rose Garden address was contrasted with scenes of chaos as law enforcement officials on horseback dispersed a peaceful crowd across the street from the White House.
“We will end it now,” Trump said of the riots. He said he has directed governors to deploy the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.”
Trump said he would invoke the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law that permits the president to use the military to suppress civil disorder or rebellion in any of the states, if requested by the governor. He did not mention any states that have requested such assistance, and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, speaking to CNN shortly after Trump’s brief speech, said, “It’s illegal, he can’t do it and we won’t request military assistance in the state of Illinois.”
The act does have a provision that allows the president to act unilaterally under certain conditions.
Over the weekend protesters turned out in large numbers in Washington, and the president, at the urging of the Secret Service, was moved to a White House bunker out of safety concerns.
“What happened in this city last night was a total disgrace,” Trump said. “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.”
With riots ongoing throughout the country, and the death toll continuing to rise from the coronavirus pandemic, the president still found a way to find a silver lining to the current state of affairs.
“By far our greatest days lie ahead,” Trump said in conclusion, adding that he was “now going to pay my respects to a very, very special place.” He then walked across the street to St. Johns Church, part of which was damaged by fire the night before, where he posed for photographs holding up a Bible.
It was a photo op designed to show that Trump was retaking control of the city, but one that did not please everyone who witnessed it.
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, told the Washington Post that she’d seen the president in front of St. Johns on television and was not informed beforehand.
“I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call that they would be clearing with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop, holding a Bible, one that declares that God is love, and when everything he has said and done is to enflame violence,” Budde said.
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