Donald Trump has slammed state governors as “weak” during a fiery call where he implored them to crack down on protesters taking to the streets in cities across the United States.
The president’s harsh words came during a video teleconference on Monday between himself, state governors, law enforcement and national security officials. Cities across America experienced mostly peaceful, but sometimes violent, protests in the last six days following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“Most of you are weak,” Mr Trump said. “You have to arrest people.”
He added that state governors would look like “jerks” if they didn’t get a handle on their cities.
“You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time,” he said. ”They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”
In recent days, the president has focused on law and order to handle protesters, including deploying the National Guard to states like Minnesota. He told local officials on Monday they must “get tougher” in managing the protesters, adding they should “track people” and put them in jail for ”10 years” so “you’ll never see this stuff again”.
“We’re doing it in Washington, DC We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before,” he said.
Washington DC also experienced trouble with protesters as multiple buildings were set on fire across the district over the last couple of evenings and people surrounded the White House. Mr Trump was taken into an underground bunker on Friday evening by Secret Service agents, The New York Times reported.
Minneapolis was a target of the president’s fury after protesters were left largely on their own on Thursday evening as they burned the Minneapolis Police Department’s third precinct. The city then employed tougher action against the protests for the evenings following.
“What happened in the state of Minnesota ...They were a laughing stock all over the world,” Mr Trump added about heightened protests, according to CNN. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and the whole world was laughing.”
He praised Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Defence Secretary Mark Esper for getting control of the situation on the call, The Washington Post reported.
“Minnesota was an experiment. First part was weak and pathetic. Second part was domination,” Mr Trump added.
Attorney General William Barr was also on the teleconference with the president and the governors. He reportedly told governors they needed to “dominate” the streets and go after “troublemakers” instead of reacting to crowds.
On the call, the president also encouraged states to pass laws that would prevent people from burning American flags in protest, a position he’s previously brought up during past protests.
“I’m not a believer in flag-burning,” the president said on the call. “And I would think that if a state wanted to try to pass a law that you’re not allowed to burn flags, with a certain punishment -- a strong punishment -- I would think that the United States government would be backing you up all the way.”
Flag burning has previously been determined a form of symbolic speech, a freedom awarded in the First Amendment, by the Supreme Court.
State governors responded to the president on the phone call, with some slamming Mr Trump's rhetoric for only escalating the violence and anger among Americans.
Governor JB Pritzker of Illinois was one to speak out against the president, according to CNN, saying: "I have been extraordinarily concerned with the rhetoric coming out of the White House making it worse. People are feeling real pain out there. We have to have national leadership in calling for calm.”
Mr Trump has not appeared in public since Saturday after he attended the launch of the SpaceX rocket in Florida. His schedule on Monday lists no public appearances. But the president did speak with Russia President Vladimir Putin on Monday before his teleconference with state governors.