As sirens wailed and flash-bang grenades popped across the street, President Donald Trump announced from the Rose Garden that he would use the U.S. military to stop the riots across the country that have been sparked by the death of George Floyd.
“I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law abiding Americans,” Trump said in the extraordinary address, which was delivered as police fired tear gas outside to push protesters back from the White House.
“We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country. We will end it now,” Trump said.
“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,” Trump said, referring to himself as “your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.”
Shortly before he started to speak — about 20 minutes before Washington, D.C.’s 7 p.m. ET curfew — the police and national guard had started using smoke and flash bangs to push away the large crowd of peaceful protesters outside.
Concluding his remarks, Trump said he was going to “pay my respects to a very, very special place.” He walked across the street that had been cleared by force of to go stand outside St. John’s Church, which suffered fire damage in protests Sunday night.
Trump held up a Bible outside the church and posed for pictures, then returned to the White House.
Critics blasted the move. “The desire for a certain backdrop for a press announcement is not a security requirement,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “In other words, using the power of the U.S. Military to clear out peaceful protestors for a presser is a massive abuse of power. “
To activate the military to operate in the U.S., Trump would have to invoke the 213-year-old Insurrection Act, which four people familiar with the decision had told NBC News he planned to do.
The military police forces would come from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and possibly Fort Belvoir in Virginia and could arrive in Washington within hours, these people said.
Trump’s decision to invoke the act, adopted in 1807, to deploy troops has come as his frustrations mount over the protests that have followed the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody last week in Minneapolis. The people familiar with his decision said Trump was angry Sunday night at the destruction some protestors caused in Washington, particularly the vandalization of national monuments.
Some of the president’s aides have been encouraging him for days to invoke the act, as he weighed options for exercising executive powers to address the crisis. The act was last invoked during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.