President Donald Trump on Monday night declared himself to be the "president of law and order" and threatened to mobilize the military in response to ongoing, sometimes violent protests across the U.S. over the killing of unarmed George Floyd.
Trump's announcement drew immediate criticism from some local leaders that he was being "incendiary" and they called the deployment of soldiers an intrusion into communities that could cause more harm.
"My first and highest duty as president is to defend our great country and the American people," Trump, 73, said in an address from the Rose Garden. "I swore an oath to uphold the laws of our nation and that is exactly what I will do."
"I am your president of law and order and an ally to peaceful protesters," he said. "Our country always wins."
Though the president quickly condemned Floyd’s “shocking” death on May 25 while being arrested in Minneapolis, his focus has become the protestors.
Trump suggested last week they should be shot by soldiers if they were caught looting and, over the weekend, he apparently relished in a series of tweets describing how the Secret Service declined to sic “vicious dogs and ominous weapons” on a protest outside the White House.
Speaking Monday night, Trump declared that he was "mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans," saying that he has instructed governors, some of whom he claimed "have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents," to "deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets."
"We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country," Trump said. "We will end it now."
With an election approaching in November, the president has sought to contrast his approach to the protests with Democrats including rival Joe Biden, who visited a protest site in Delaware.
"My first and highest duty as President is to defend our great country and the American people." pic.twitter.com/V70hAt4WLU— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 1, 2020
"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 Monday.
He also vowed to dispatch "thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers" to bring order.
"One law and order, and that is what it is," he said. The White House has said the Insurrection Act of 1807, last invoked during the riots following Rodney King's beating in Los Angeles in the '90s, provides the authority to have the military act as a police force.
Trump's Rose Garden address came just shortly after multiple governors across the nation denounced Trump's rhetoric regarding the use of force by police against Americans protesting the killing of Floyd.
During a phone call on Monday morning, Trump called the governors "weak" and criticized their responses to protests in dozens of cities across the country. The president emphasized the increased use of the National Guard and encouraged more arrests while telling governors they need to "get much tougher."
Audio of the call was leaked to multiple media outlets and published online by PBS.
Governors soon spoke out against Trump's speech.
"We won't request military assistance here in the state of Illinois and I can't imagine any governor would do that. It's ridiculous," Illinois' J. B. Pritzker said later Monday, adding, "The president has created an incendiary moment.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, "Thank you but no thank you."
Earlier Monday, Oregon's governor, Kate Brown, said: "Trump wants governors to deploy the National Guard as a show of force to intimidate the public. I want to ensure that the public can safely raise their voices in this much-needed call for reform.”
"These are not acts of peaceful protest. These are acts of domestic terror." pic.twitter.com/ht7uLFgJRx— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 1, 2020
Protests over racial injustice and police brutality began last week in Minneapolis when footage of Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, spread widely online.
Derek Chauvin, the officer in the video, was fired from the department and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The three other officers who were present at the time of Floyd's death are still under investigation.
Trump has repeatedly condemned protesters amid nationwide unrest. Last week, he called some of the protesters "thugs" who were "dishonoring the memory of George Floyd." The president then threatened intervention — seeming to suggest that the military would "shoot" looters.
On Saturday morning, Trump shared a series of tweets praising the Secret Service for coming down "hard" on the protesters who stood outside the White House on Friday. "Great job last night at the White House by the U.S @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool. I was inside, watched every move, and couldn't have felt more safe," Trump wrote.
ERIC BARADAT/Getty Images D.C. protest
Trump then praised his agents for letting "'protesters' scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone got too frisky or out of line," his agents would "quickly come down on them, hard — didn't know what hit them."
Before Trump's Monday evening address, law enforcement officers used tear gas and flash bangs to clear peaceful protesters outside the White House, CNN reported.
Trump said in his address a 7 p.m. curfew "will be strictly enforced" in Washington, D.C.