President Trump on Friday described protesters who surrounded the White House during the final night of the Republican National Convention as “thugs,” and suggested he was looking at invoking the Insurrection Act to send troops to quell protests in U.S. cities.
Trump, speaking at an outdoor campaign rally in Manchester, N.H., took a victory lap following his keynote address to the GOP convention from the White House on Thursday, before rebuking Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for what he described as a failure to gain control of protests in the city.
“What I didn’t like, you saw this, right, when it was over?” Trump said. “The thugs outside, because the Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., it’s another Democrat that’s not believing inn law and order. And you know we give Washington, D.C., a lot of money to run it, but they don’t do a good job of running it, the mayor. She doesn’t run anything.”
Trump specifically mentioned Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who was surrounded by protesters Thursday night when departing the White House following Trump’s address and needed to be escorted by police.
“These incredible people from all over the country, all over the world last night, they walked out to a bunch of thugs. And that wasn’t — remember this — that wasn’t friendly protesters, they were thugs. They were thugs,” Trump continued.
The president complemented the work of the D.C. police, but issued repeated criticism of Bowser, with whom he has tangled before as a result of his handling of civil unrest in D.C. following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by Minneapolis police.
“The mayor should be ashamed of herself for that kind of a display of incompetence, because that’s what’s happening inn Portland, that’s what happens all over where you have Democrat-run cities,” Trump said.
The president went on to suggest that he again was considering invoking the Insurrection Act, which would enable him to send active-duty troops to cities to quell protests and unrest.
“We’re not supposed to be involved unless we’re invited in — by the people that run — these are all Democrat-run cities, including D.C.,” Trump said. “We’re not supposed to go in unless you call it an insurrection.”
“We’re going to have to look at it,” he continued. “Because we’re not going to let that happen to people who go to the White House to celebrate our country.”
He also accused the protesters of “looking for trouble” and called them “bad people,” asserting they had nothing to do with Floyd.
“You know what I say? Protesters your ass,” Trump said. “I don’t talk about my ass. They’re not protesters, those aren’t protesters. Those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”
The president’s remarks played into the “law and order” message that he has been a central point of his reelection campaign. Trump has sought to blame Democrats for the violence that has accompanied protests against racial injustice that spread across the country following Floyd’s death in May.
He leaned into that message Thursday during his convention address, attempting to paint Democratic nominee Joe Biden as a vehicle for socialist policies who would allow violence to fester in U.S. cities, echoing his earlier pronouncements.
Biden accused Trump of “rooting” for violence in Kenosha, Wis., in a television interview Thursday afternoon, before Trump’s speech. Biden has also condemned violence that has accompanied demonstrations, like those in Kenosha following the recent shooting of Jacob Blake.
Trump has been criticized for his rhetoric about cracking down on protests against racial injustice. In May following Floyd’s death, he called protesters in Minneapolis “thugs” and warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — a phrase first used by a Miami police chief who cracked down on protests during the civil rights era. Trump has since claimed not to have known the origins of the phrase.
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