President Trump lashed out at state governors Monday, saying that those who did not mass arrest protesters “for long periods of time” would end up looking like “a bunch of jerks.”
“You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate... you’re wasting your time,” Trump said on a private conference call with governors and national security officials. “They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
The president, who is hunkered down in the White House, added during the call that local officials have to put protestors and looters in prison “for long periods of time” in order to assert control amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.
“It’s a movement, if you don’t put it down it will get worse and worse,” Trump said. “The only time it's successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”
A source on the call, who shared it with The Daily Beast, called Trump’s talk “unhinged,” noting that it often veered off in various directions. At one point, the source said, the president brought up flag burning and encouraged states to pass laws banning it.
“Flag burning is a disgrace... We have a different court. And I think that It’s time to review that again,” he said. “They wanted to climb up flag polls in Washington in order to burn flags, but we stopped them... If you wanted to try and pass a very powerful flag burning statute, anti-flag burning, I hope you do it because we will back you 100 percent, all the way. I hope some of you do it.”
At another, he blurred legal lines when discussing the needs for prosecution. “When someone is throwing a rock, that’s like shooting a gun. What’s the difference?” Trump said. “You have to do retribution in my opinion.”
Some of the call was constructive. The president expressed support for governors who had not seen violence in their states, signaling out Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), saying he had done a “very good job” in responding to the protests. Trump has previously praised Murphy publicly for his efforts containing the coronavirus.
The call came days after the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charged Derek Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes during a violent May 25 arrest, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin—along with Thomas Lane, Tou Thao, and Alexander Kueng—were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department on May 26, one day after an explosive footage incident spurred a national outcry and demands for a federal investigation.
Over the last six days, residents in over 40 cities took to the streets and engaged in chaotic and destructive protests, in which demonstrators were seen burning police cars, looting, and clashing with authorities in the fight against police brutality. The National Guard was deployed in almost half the states in the nation, plus Washington, D.C., after officials found local cops were insufficient to contain the outrage alone.
Emphasizing his belief that the “radical left” is the cause of the riots and violence across the country, Trump warned that the law enforcement presence in Washington D.C. is set to intensify on Monday. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday she is instituting a city-wide 7 p.m. curfew until Wednesday.
“Washington was under good control, but we’re going to have it under much more control,” the president said. “We’re going to pull in thousands.” Later he added, “We’re going to clamp down very, very strong.”
At one point in the call, Trump focused his critiques on Minneapolis, stating that “the whole world is laughing” at the city where the “police state is getting burned.” On Monday, Minnesota Gov. Tom Walz announced he will extended the curfew in the city and St. Paul until Wednesday, after the state’s Department of Public Safety announced nearly 500 protesters were arrested over the weekend.
Praising the National Guard, which stepped in to help local Minnesota law enforcement over the weekend and shot teargas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets at protesters and journalists alike who broke curfew, Trump said, “They went in and dominated.”
“Those guys walked through that stuff like it was butter,” Trump said. “The big numbers knock them out so fast it was like bowling pins.”
About halfway through the call, Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, told President Trump that she was concerned about his possible trip to the state later in the week.
“Mr. President I am very concerned quite frankly that… we understand you might be coming to the state of Maine later this week. I am very concerned that your presence may cause security problems for our state,” she said.
Trump said he would look into the issue. “We have a tremendous crowd of people showing up as you know,” the president said. “And I think most of them are very favorable. They like their president.”
During the call, Trump urged governors to use their “greatest resource”—the National Guard—to help local law enforcement quell the ongoing violence.
“You have every one of these guys on tape,” Trump said. “Why aren't you prosecuting them? Now, the harder you are, the tougher you are, the less likely you’re going to be hit.”