WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday pointed to a massive deployment of National Guard troops and federal law enforcement officers to the nation's capital, saying it offered a model to states on how to quell protests nationwide.
Trump said that the massive show of force was responsible for protests in Washington and other cities turning more calm in recent days and repeated his criticism of governors who have not deployed their National Guard to the fullest.
It was a striking contrast to the harsh crackdowns outside the White House on Monday night, advocated by the president who wanted to make the aggressive action in the nation’s capital an example for the rest of the country, a senior White House official said Tuesday.
“You have to have a dominant force,” Trump told Fox New Radio on Wednesday. “We need law and order.”
He quickly pivoted to the politics of the moment, adding, “You notice that all of these places that have problems, they’re not run by Republicans. They’re run by liberal Democrats.”
The Defense Department has drafted contingency plans for deploying active-duty military if needed. Pentagon documents reviewed by The Associated Press showed plans for soldiers from an Army division to protect the White House and other federal buildings if the security situation in the nation’s capital were to deteriorate and the National Guard could not secure the facilities.
But interest in exerting that extraordinary federal authority appeared to be waning in the White House. Though the crackdown on the Washington demonstrations was praised by some Trump supporters Tuesday, a handful of Republicans expressed concern that law enforcement officers risked violating the protesters’ First Amendment rights. Trump's defense secretary also distanced himself from Trump’s decision to walk across Lafayette Park for a photo opportunity at a church after the demonstrators had been cleared.
Pentagon Chief Mark Esper, who walked with Trump to St. John’s Church on Monday evening, insisted he did not know the president’s destination.
“I didn’t know where I was going,” Esper told NBC News. He said he had expected to view damage to a bathroom facility that had been vandalized in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, and talk with National Guard troops positioned there.
Protests have sprung up following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him down and pressed Floyd’s neck with his knee. Violent demonstrations have raged in scores of American cities, a level of unrest unseen for decades.
The situation in Washington escalated Monday, becoming a potent symbol of Trump’s policing tactics and a physical manifestation of the rhetorical culture war he has stoked since before he was elected. Nearly 30 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew in Washington, U.S. Park Police repelled protesters with what they said were smoke canisters.
“D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination,” Trump tweeted Tuesday, after a night in which heavily armed military forces and federal officers swarmed the city. Trump added, “(thank you President Trump!).”
The clampdown followed a weekend of demonstrations outside the White House. Trump had been furious about images juxtaposing fires set in the park outside the executive mansion with a darkened White House in the background, according to current and former campaign and administration officials. He was also angry about the news coverage revealing he had been rushed to the White House bunker during Friday’s protests. Many reports now reveal the photo of the darkened White House may have been taken during the Obama administration.
In a Monday address in the Rose Garden, he called on governors to ramp up the National Guard presence to tamp down the protests. If they didn’t, Trump said, he would dispatch the military to their states — a step rarely taken in modern American history.
The federal government has provided affected states with a list of National Guard resources available to them, the White House official said. The official added that Trump’s message to governors was that if they don’t use all the tools in their arsenal, they shouldn’t expect a sympathetic response to any request for federal dollars to help with cleanup and recovery down.