Donald Trump vowed to end violent protests across the country, threatening to deploy “heavily armed” US military troops to cities even if mayors and governors object. The president spoke at the White House with the sound of police firing tear gas at protesters in Washington audible behind him.
“A number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents,” Mr Trump said during an early evening Rose Garden statement with another protest over George Floyd‘s death last week while in police custody in Minneapolis. Mr Floyd was a black man; the officer who kneeled on his neck was white. “I am mobilising all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Whether any US president can deploy active-duty troops onto US soil is a murky legal matter.
A congressional waiver typically must be approved, but not always.
“Can Trump use the Military to respond to Minneapolis? Yes, but this is subject to certain, critical legal restrictions under both the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act,” Mark Nevitt, a law professor at the US Naval Academy wrote for Just Security.
“The Insurrection Act is, by far, the Posse Comitatus Act’s most important exception,” Mr Nevitt added. “This is the legal key that unlocks the door to use federal military forces – whether through federalising the National Guard or calling in “’title 10 forces’ to quell civil unrest”.
Mr Trump said: “We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread across our country. We will end it now,” noting he had recommended during a call with governors that they activate their National guard troops, if needed. “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are 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.”
President George HW Bush in 1992, during racially charged violence, “issued an executive order, which authorised the defence secretary to federalise the California National Guard and deploy active-duty army and marine personnel from bases in California to the scenes of the riots,” Mr Nevitt noted.
Mr Trump spoke as uniformed US secret service and US park police officers, backed by National Guard troops, fired tear gas at protesters about a block from the White House.
Mounted officers on horseback were used as a 1900 local time [0000 GMT] curfew set by Washington mayor Muriel Bowser approached.
The reason became clear as Mr Trump teased as he left the Rose Garden, telling reporters he was soon going to a sacred place.
Mr Trump walked across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church, which was partially burned on Sunday night. Every modern US president, including Mr Trump, has attended at least one service there.
He was flanked by US secret service agents and staff members. He posed outside with a Bible and several top aides.
The brazen move came with protesters just a block or two away.
That followed some brazen talk by the president, who declared to the country: “I am your president of law and order, and an ally of peaceful protesters.”
Mr Trump again blamed the rioting and looting of businesses in Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and other cities on “professional anarchists, violent mobs” and groups like “Antifa“.
“These are not acts of peaceful protests, these are acts of domestic terror,” the president said, calling violence an “offence to humanity and a crime against God”.
He said the country wants “creation not destruction ... Security not anarchy. .... Healing not hatred. .... Justice not chaos”.
“We will succeed 100 per cent. Our country always wins,” he said even as cable networks quickly pivoted back to scenes of protests in multiple major cities.