President Donald Trump appears to have backed away from his threat to deploy troops to quell ongoing race protests, a day after threatening states that he would dispatch the military.
It comes as White House officials said this week’s response to demonstrations across the country showed local governments should be able to restore order themselves.
The shift came as protests in Washington and other cities over police brutality against minorities proceeded on Tuesday with relative calm, a stark contrast to the harsh crackdowns outside the White House on Monday night.
President Trump had wanted to make the aggressive action in the nation’s capital an example for the rest of the country, a senior White House official told The Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday.
The Defence Department has drafted contingency plans for how to deploy active-duty military if needed among the ongoing violent protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck.
Pentagon documents reviewed by AP showed plans for soldiers 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 by Tuesday.
Among other developments on Tuesday:
– Thousands of demonstrators remained on New York City streets after an 8pm curfew, put in place by officials reduce property damage amid growing complaints the nation’s biggest city was reeling out of control.
– Thousands took to the streets of Los Angeles in peaceful protests, and smaller demonstrations dotted other California cities while authorities renewed overnight curfews in LA and other areas.
– Former president George W. Bush, while not mentioning fellow Republican Mr Trump, called the harassment and threats made towards African-American protesters by authorities a “shocking failure”.
– The Minneapolis school board voted to end its contract with the Minneapolis Police Department on school security in light of Mr Floyd’s death.
Though the crackdown on the Washington demonstrations was praised by some Trump supporters, a handful of Republicans expressed concern that law enforcement officers risked violating the protesters’ First Amendment rights pertaining to free speech and freedom of assembly.
The defence secretary also distanced himself from Mr Trump’s decision to walk across Lafayette Park for a photo opportunity at a church after demonstrators had been cleared.
Pentagon Chief Mark Esper, who walked with Mr 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,” Mr Esper told NBC News.
He said he had expected to view damage to a bathroom facility that had been vandalised in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, and talk with National Guard troops positioned there.
The situation in Washington had escalated on Monday, becoming a potent symbol of Mr 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 7pm curfew in Washington, peaceful protesters were cleared for MR Trump’s walk to the church. Reports said tear gas was used, but US Park Police said they had used smoke canisters and pepper balls.
“D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination,” Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday, after a night in which heavily armed military forces and federal officers swarmed the city. Mr Trump added, “(thank you President Trump!).”
D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said of Mr Trump posing for photos with a Bible: “I just wish he opened it once in a while.”
The clampdown on the protesters followed a weekend of demonstrations outside the White House. Mr 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, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr Trump was also said to be angry about reports revealing he had been rushed to the White House bunker during Friday’s protests.
He moved to respond aggressively on Monday, with an evening address calling on governors to ramp up the National Guard presence in their states to suppress protests.
If states did not abide by those orders, Mr Trump said, he would dispatch the military to their states — a step rarely taken in modern American history.
On Monday, 715 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived in the DC area in case the situation escalated.
They are now stationed at two bases nearby, while a further 1,300 soldiers are on standby in North Carolina, according to the documents obtained by AP. The plan is named Operation Themis.
Meanwhile, former president Bush spoke out in a statement against efforts that have been used to suppress and silence protesters.
“It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future,” he said. “Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.”