Trump insults governors as ‘weak’
Demands they get tough on protesters throughout the US
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday derided many governors as “weak” and demanded tougher crackdowns on burning and stealing among some demonstrations in the aftermath of unrest in dozens of American cities.
Trump spoke to governors on a video teleconference that also included law enforcement and national security officials, telling the state leaders they “have to get much tougher.”
“Most of you are weak,” Trump said. “You have to arrest people.”
The days of protests were triggered by last week’s death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The demonstrations turned violent in several cities, with people trashing stores, smashing and burning police cars and igniting fires in historic Lafayette Park near the White House.
The president urged governors to deploy the National Guard, which he credited for helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis. He demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los
“You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again,” said Trump. “We’re doing it in Washington, D.C. We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before.”
The president told governors they were making themselves “look like fools” for not calling up more of the National Guard as a show for force on city streets.
Attorney General Bill Barr, who was also on the call, told governors a joint terrorist task force would be used to track agitators and urged local officials to “dominate” the streets and control, not react to crowds.
“Law enforcement response is not going to work unless we dominate the streets,” Barr said.
Trump’s angry exhortations came after a Sunday night of escalating violence, images of fires and looting and clashes with police filling the nation’s airwaves and overshadowing the largely peaceful protests. The fallout had grown so heated Friday night that the Secret Service rushed the president to an underground bunker previously used during terrorist attacks.
On Monday, Trump also spoke of trying to criminalize flag-burning. The Supreme Court has conservative new members since it last ruled on that issue, and Trump said that “I think it’s time to review that again.”
He continued his effort to project strength, using inflammatory tweets and delivering partisan attacks.
The demonstrations in Washington appeared to catch officers by surprise. They sparked one of the highest alerts at the White House complex since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Trump has told advisers he worries about his safety, while both privately and publicly praising the work of the Secret Service.
In recent days security at the White House has been reinforced by the National Guard and additional personnel from the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police.
The Justice Department deployed members of the U.S. Marshals Service and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration to supplement National Guard troops outside the White House, according to a senior Justice Department official. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Between the protests and the response to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Guard has been deployed at its highest level in recent history, surpassing the number of troops sent to the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. More than 66,700 soldiers and airman have been activated — 45,000 to assist with the pandemic and more than 17,000 to help with the protests.
Most of the protesters have been peaceful and tried to discourage violence. Trump, Barr and others have tried to blame some of the civil unrest on left-wing extremist groups, including antifa, and other “anarchists.” Short for antifascists, antifa is an umbrella term for far-leftleaning militant groups that resist neo-Nazis and white supremacists at demonstrations.
The FBI is using its network of regional joint terrorism task forces to “identify criminal organizers,” and federal prosecutors across the country have been instructed to share information and utilize federal riot, arson or terror statutes against any “violent radical agitators” who attempt to hijack protests to cause destruction.
The Justice Department has vowed to treat the “violence instigated and carried out by antifa & other similar groups” as domestic terrorism. Although there isn’t a specific federal domestic terrorism statute, prosecutors could charge other offenses and seek enhanced sentencing.
The FBI has already started questioning rioters who were arrested in several cities to determine whether they committed any federal crimes, the senior Justice Department official said. It is a federal crime to cross state lines to participate in violent riots.
President Trump, seen with law enforcement members, wants governors to stop recent unrest nationwide.