President Donald Trump called the nation’s governors “weak” during a call on Monday, urging a tougher crackdown on massive protests against police brutality and racist policing across the United States.
“You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate,” Trump said, according to audio of the call obtained by HuffPost.
“Most of you are weak,” Trump told governors on a video call that also included law enforcement and national security officials. “You have to arrest people.”
Attorney General Bill Barr and Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Trump on the call. Trump said he had placed Milley “in charge” and said he planned to “activate” Barr “very strongly.”
Trump’s remarks came after days of protests prompted by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who was pinned to the ground by a white Minneapolis police officer for nearly nine minutes; for much of that time, Floyd was unresponsive. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who along with three others was fired over the incident, was arrested Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
While many demonstrators peacefully gathered, at points the protests turned violent, with some attendees vandalizing and stealing from businesses. Many states activated the National Guard to help with law enforcement, and many police responded to protesters with authoritarian tactics.
At one point in the hour-long call, Trump told the governors they didn’t need to worry about using too much force against protesters and should aggressively prosecute the crimes.
“You don’t have to be too careful,” Trump said. “You have to do the prosecutions. If you don’t do the prosecutions, they’re just going to be back. … Somebody throwing a rock, that’s like shooting a gun. You have to do retribution, you have to use your legal system.”
Trump’s comments fit into his long history of demeaning protesters and praising crackdowns on dissent. In a 1990 interview, Trump praised China’s leadership for its brutal and deadly suppression of protests in Tiananmen Square, claiming they had shown “the power of strength.”
The president on Monday also said Minnesota had become a “laughingstock all over the world,” and specifically criticized the response in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York City.
While the comments alarmed some of the people on the call, there was little pushback from the nation’s governors. Throughout the call, Trump suggested the riots and protests were not the result of anger at policing policies, but were instead the result of professional instigators and a supposedly organized movement.
Nearly every governor seemed to accept this frame. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican and frequent critic of the president, told the Trump that he “couldn’t agree more with what you said.”
“Peace through strength,” Hogan said, citing his experience handling the 2017 protests following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody.
“Everybody’s saying the same thing about these out-of-town agitators,” Hogan continued. “It seems to be very organized.”
Maine Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, a former attorney general, asked Trump and Barr for any “intelligence” they had “regarding the source of the protests and bad actors and professional instigators.”
“I’d like to be able to prepare for any professional instigators,” she said. “We haven’t seen that yet in my state.”
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards similarly asked for any intelligence the federal government might have about groups targeting Louisiana.
The only governor to directly challenge Trump during the call was Illinois Gov. J.B Pritzker. “I’ve been extraordinarily concerned about the rhetoric that’s been used by you. It’s been inflammatory and it’s not OK for that officer to choke George Floyd to death,” Pritzker said. “We have to call for calm. We have to have police reform.”
Trump shot back: “I don’t like your rhetoric much either,” before criticizing how Pritzker had handled the coronavirus pandemic in his state.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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