WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump mocked many governors on Monday as “ weak, ” demanding stricter crackdowns on fires and steals at some demonstrations in the wake of violent protests in dozens of U.S. cities.
Trump spoke to governors at a video conference, including law enforcement officers and national security officials, and told state leaders to “ get much harder. ”
“Most of you are weak,” said Trump. “You have to arrest people.”
The days of protests were caused by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and begged for air. The demonstrations turned violent in several cities, with people destroying shops, wrecking and burning police cars, and lighting fires in historic Lafayette Park opposite the White House.
Accused by critics for doing too little to defuse the crisis, Trump would speak to the nation on Monday night.
The president urged governors to deploy the National Guard, which he said helped calm the situation on Sunday night in Minneapolis. He demanded that similarly stringent measures be taken in cities that have also experienced violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
“You have to arrest people, you have to follow people, you have to put them in prison for 10 years and you will never see this stuff again,” said Trump. “We’re doing it in Washington, D.C. We’re going to do something people haven’t seen before.”
The president told the governors that they made themselves appear “foolish” because they no longer called up the National Guard as a show for street violence.
Attorney General Bill Barr, who was also present, told the governors that a joint terrorist task force would be used to track down agitators and urged local officials to “dominate” and control the streets, not respond on the crowds. He urged the governors to “go after troublemakers.”
Trump’s angry exhortations to the country’s governors came after a Sunday night of escalating violence, images of fires and looting, and clashes with police filling the nation’s ether and overshadowing largely peaceful protests. The protests were so heated on Friday evening that the secret service rushed the president to an underground bunker that had previously been used in terrorist attacks.
On Monday, Trump also spoke of attempts to criminalize the burning of flags. The Supreme Court has had conservative new members since it last ruled on the matter, and Trump said, “I think it’s time to review that again.”
He continued his efforts to project strength, using inflammatory tweets and partisan attacks.
As cities burn night after night and images of violence dominated television coverage, Trump’s advisers discussed the prospect of an Oval Office address in an effort to ease tensions. The idea was quickly dropped due to the lack of policy proposals and the President’s apparent disinterest in conveying a message of unity.
Trump did not appear in public on Sunday, nor was he scheduled on Monday.
The Washington demonstrations seemed to surprise officers. They caused one of the highest warnings in the White House complex since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Trump has told advisers that he is concerned about his safety while praising the secret service’s work both privately and publicly.
Demonstrators returned Sunday afternoon and faced police in Lafayette Park in the evening. Trump retweeted a message from a conservative commentator who encouraged authorities to respond with more vigor.
“This won’t stop until the good guys start using overwhelming violence against the bad guys,” Buck Sexton wrote in a statement that was reinforced by the president.
White House security has been bolstered in recent days by the National Guard and additional Secret Service personnel and U.S. Park Police.
The Department of Justice has deployed members of the U.S. Marshals Service and agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration to replenish National Guard troops outside the White House, a senior Justice Department official said. The official was unable to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Lemire was from New York. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.
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