In his first remarks from the White House since massive protests have swept the country, President Trump said Monday evening that the looting and violent demonstrations in reaction to the death of George Floyd in police custody were “acts of domestic terror.”
Speaking in the Rose Garden as protesters and law enforcement held a tense standoff outside, Mr. Trump said he planned for a police and law enforcement presence to “dominate the streets” and said he would respond with an “overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled.”
If governors were unable to end the violence, he said, he would send in the military “to do the job for them.”
Mr. Trump said he was among the Americans “rightly sickened and revolted” by the death of Mr. Floyd. But he spent most of his highly anticipated address presenting himself as a law and order president. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions 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,” he said.
The Insurrection Act of 1807 allows for a president to deploy military forces on domestic soil to enforce the law. Experts said it was intended to be used for circumstances like a natural disaster. But presidents can unilaterally send in troops for domestic law enforcement purposes.
Just after Mr. Trump concluded his speech, military police from the National Guard clad in camouflage and riot shields surged in front of a line of law enforcement officers pushing protesters back from the mouth of Lafayette Square outside the White House.
Police officers used tear gas and flash grenades to clear out the crowd so Mr. Trump could visit the nearby St. John’s Church, where there was a parish house basement fire Sunday night. The president stood in front of the boarded up church posing for photographs with a bible, after the police dispersed peaceful protesters.
He called up a group of aides, including National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Attorney General William P. Barr, his senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, to pose with him in front of the church.
Mr. Trump walked back to the White House after a few minutes. He did not respond to shouted questions from reporters. Other aides, including Ivanka Trump and Hope Hicks, accompanied him on the walk across the park.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a New York Democrat, was quick to criticize the president in a news conference later Monday. “Calling out the American military for a photo opportunity. That’s what it was. I mean, it was shameful. It was really, truly shameful.”
The president’s church visit was also criticized by Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who said she was “outraged” that Mr. Trump went to the church “after he threatened to basically rain down military force.”
“The president used a Bible, the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and one of the churches of my diocese, without even asking us, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for,” she said in an interview. “It is appalling.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said the federal police officer’s clearing of peaceful protesters was “shameful” and had made the job of city police officers harder.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump had berated America’s governors over their response to the protests across the nation, calling the protesters “terrorists,” demanding “retribution,” and warning the govern
Speaking on a private conference call, audio of which was obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Trump began the conversation with an extended, angry diatribe.
“You have to dominate,” he told governors on the call. “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.”
The president continued: “You have to arrest people, and you have to try people, and they have to go jail for long periods of time.”
Mr. Trump, who has not addressed the nation since the unrest began, said he was putting Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in charge,” but did not immediately specify what that meant or if he would deploy the military to quell the violence in the nation’s cities.
Alluding to television footage of violence and looting, Mr. Trump called the people committing those acts “scum” and demanded of the governors: “Why aren’t you prosecuting them?” In blunt remarks rarely heard from an American president, he prodded the governors not to be “too careful.”
Taking over a call that was supposed to feature Vice President Mike Pence, the president said Minnesota had become “a laughingstock all over the world.”
Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, who was on the call, said at a news conference afterward that he took exception to Mr. Trump’s remark. “I said no one is laughing here, we’re in pain,” Mr. Walz told reporters. “I also shared with the president that a posture of force on the ground is both unsustainable militarily — it’s also unsustainable socially, because it’s the antithesis of how we live.”