President Donald Trump on Monday evening threatened to use the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy the U.S. military to the nation's city streets if unrest over the killing of George Floyd did not calm.
"Trump is rejecting the rule of law and proposing military action that is antithetical to basic premises of the American experiment," tweeted The Nation's John Nichols. "He thinks he is playing a political game. This is no game."
The president, who spent part of the weekend hidden in a bunker at the White House as protests raged outside the building, announced during a speech at the Rose Garden Monday that he was preparing to send military troops to cities around the nation.
"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," said Trump.
The president also announced he was immediately deploying "thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers" to Washington—the only place in the country the president can legally deploy the army without restriction.
As NBC News reported:
To activate the military to operate in the U.S., Trump would have to invoke the 213-year-old Insurrection Act, which four people familiar with the decision had told NBC News he planned to do.
Trump’s decision on whether to invoke the act, adopted in 1807, to deploy troops has come as his frustrations mount over the protests that have followed the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody last week in Minneapolis. The people familiar with his decision said Trump was angry Sunday night at the destruction some protestors caused in Washington, particularly the vandalization of national monuments.
After his speech, Trump walked to St. John's Church. Police cleared the way for the president to walk to the photo-op with force, using batons, tear gas, and pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square on the way to the church.
The area outside the White House looks like a warzone right now pic.twitter.com/MgoUnrPh6l— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 1, 2020
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CNN reports that Trump used tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters for a photo op, after being upset about media coverage about him being rushed to a bunker. pic.twitter.com/LN0tA51gjA— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) June 2, 2020
The national protest movement that erupted after Floyd's killing by Minneapolis police officers on May 25 has spread across the entire country as long simmering rage over police brutality, racism, and civilian killings have combined with the economic and social crises of the coronavirus pandemic to propel tens and hundreds of thousands of people into the nation's city streets night after night.
I put the videos of police clearing out Lafayette Square and Trump’s photo op side by side. pic.twitter.com/t08Wul5YP7— nikki mccann ramírez (@NikkiMcR) June 2, 2020
"Abuse of power and systemic racism are a deadly combination, particularly for people of color and Indigenous Peoples, who are disproportionately criminalized and targeted by weaponized policing around the world—destroying lives, families, and communities, denying people their basic humanity and dignity, and violating their rights," the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) said in a statement of solidarity with the protest movement.
As Common Dreams reported, police around the country have constantly attacked protesters, escalating the demonstrations into violence and injuring and arresting hundreds of people. At least two people have died.
"People are angry," Amnesty International USA End Gun Violence campaign manager Ernest Coverson said in a statement. "People are exhausted."
"They have a right to take to the streets and peacefully protest—everyone has that right," Coverson continued. "The rights of the many to take to the streets and demand justice and comprehensive police reform cannot be trampled upon, for any reason."
The White House has been a regular target of Washington protesters, who have gathered at or near it nightly, at times destroying or damaging property around the building.
The president's response to the protest movement has focused primarily on supporting the police. While Trump has mentioned George Floyd and expressed rare sympathy for a black victim of police abuse, the main focus of the president's remarks over the past week have been on supporting law enforcement as officers beat, pepper spray, and launch tear gas at demonstrators.
"Sending in the military to respond to a peaceful revolution has been the only action this administration has taken," said Coverson.