President Donald Trump on Monday threatened to deploy US military troops in towns and cities where local officials failed to stop the violence, looting and vandalism that have accompanied protests, which he described as “terror”, against the death of an African American man in police custody.
In a speech from the White House, the president said he has asked state officials to deploy military reservists of the National Guard in “sufficient numbers to dominate the streets”. If a state of official refuses, he said, “I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them”.’
To protesters, he said, “I want the organisers of this terror to be on notice that you will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail.”
The president also said he had ordered “swift and decisive action” to bring the situation under control in Washington DC.
Even as he spoke, National Guard troops moved up to the front of the phalanx of law enforcement personnel facing protesters outside the White House. Flash-bang bombs, tear gas shells and rubber bullets were used to disperse a peaceful demonstration from a side of the White House facing Lafayette Square, a park that is an unofficial venue for White House protests.
The president walked out of the White House shortly after and headed to a church on one side of the park that was damaged by protesters Sunday night. He was accompanied by some members of his cabinet such as Mark Esper and William Barr and new chief of staff Mark Meadows and son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka trump.
The president held up a copy of the Bible on he steps of the church, which was closed, and posed for pictures with some members of the entourage. Church officials told reporters later the president was there without their permission and wanted to have nothing to do with his appearance.
“Greatest country in the world,” Trump said when asked for what message he was seeking to deliver. “And we’re going to keep it safe.”
Critics saw it as a stunt to counter the uncharitable but brutal blowback for taking shelter in an underground bunker on the first night of protests at the White House last Friday. The president, who likes to project himself as a tough-guy, has been seething over the scorn and mockery that followed.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who had praised Trump for federal help deal with Covid-19 in a state that had became the epicentre of the global and American epidemic, was characteristically blunt. “Calling out the American military for a photo opportunity. That’s what it was. I mean, it was shameful. It was really, truly shameful.”
Trump had berated governors, specially those of the Democratic party, in a conference call earlier for being “weak” against protesters and had pressed them to do more, essentially giving them the same message that he delivered in the evening form the White House – “dominate” the streets with heavy presence of law enforcement personnel, including National Guard reservists.
The president’s threat to deploy soldiers triggered debate about whether he had legal authority to do do. Under the Insurrection Act, a more than 200-year-old law, the president can deploy US military on American soil to deal with civil disorder, insurrection or rebellion.
But it was last used at the request of a state, California in1992 to send troops into Los Angeles, a city rocked by protests in the aftermath of the acquittal of police officers accused of severely beating Rodney King, an African American man.