In a dramatic escalation of a national crisis, National Guard troops were deployed near the White House Monday evening hours after President Donald Trump said he wanted a military show of force against violent protests gripping the country.
Shortly after, Trump came to the White House Rose Garden to call himself the “law and order” president, saying “domestic terrorism” was to blame for the unrest.
“As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property,” he said. “We will end it now.”
He called on governors to use their National Guard military police units to “dominate the streets” and said he would deploy the active duty military if governors failed to use the National Guard more forcefully.
He said he may invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, which permits a president to deploy military inside the U.S. to deal with civil disorder.
Before Trump spoke, what appeared to be tear gas and flash bangs were used to clear what appeared to be peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park near St. John’s Church, which protesters set fire to briefly Sunday night.
Trump and aides then walked across Pennsylvania Avenue to pose before cameras at the church, holding a Bible.
“We have the greatest country in the world, we’re going to keep it nice and safe,” he said, expressing resolve that the country is coming back but did not otherwise engage on reporter questions.
He then began the walk back to the White House after just a minute or so in front of the church, his daughter Ivanka trailing him.
“What the president did was call out the American military against American citizens,” New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday just after Trump spoke, “just so he could have a photo op of him walking to the church.”
“It was just for photo opportunity. I mean it is it is amazing calling out the American military for a photo opportunity. That’s what it was. I mean it was shameful,” Cuomo told CNN. “It was really, truly shameful.”
Several truckloads of DC National Guard military police had arrived near Lafayette Park where large groups of protesters had fought with police for the past three nights, at one point on Friday causing officials to have Trump taken to a bunker below the White House for his protection.
A U.S. official said that active duty Army military police units from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, were preparing to be on standby in the Washington, D.C. area Monday night after three days of violent protests.
The National Guard troops are going to be protecting national monuments, the White House, property, and infrastructure, the official said.
Not all DC Guard troops will be armed, the official said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and Attorney General William Barr were seen walking near the police line in Lafayette Park as military vehicles were stationed nearby.
Mayor Muriel Bowser Monday afternoon declared a curfew beginning at 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. Tuesday. The curfew time roughly coincided with the dispersal of the protesters and Trump’s walk to the church.
“During the hours of the curfew, no person, other than persons designated by the Mayor, shall walk, bike, run, loiter, stand, or motor by car or other mode of transport upon any street, alley, park, or other public place within the District,” the mayor’s order said.
Earlier, as the White House geared up for another night of protests outside its gates, President Trump lashed out at governors for their handling of demonstrations over George Floyd’s death, emphasizing instances of rioting and looting that marred overwhelmingly peaceful protests across the country.
As his press secretary cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s support for nonviolence, Trump shared a message from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who suggested unleashing a U.S. Army air assault division on those carrying out “anarchy, rioting, and looting.”
“100% Correct,” the president wrote.
Rather than focus on protesters’ grievances — such as systemic racism and police brutality — Trump has increasingly turned his focus to squelching the civil unrest that has accompanied the national demonstrations and has taken a hardline stance to restoring order.
He has said, without offering evidence, that much of the rioting that has wracked American cities over recent nights has been carried out by supporters of the amorphous “antifa” movement — a loose group of people who define themselves as anti-fascist. He tweeted Sunday that the U.S. would designate the group a terrorist organization, but the White House did not say Monday under what legal authority it would do so, nor did it explain how it could prosecute its members as terrorists.
The president told the nation’s governors on a call Monday that they need to “dominate” over the ongoing situation of unrest and has related the situation to a military conflict.
“You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time,” Trump said, according to a recording of the call obtained by ABC News. “They’re gonna run over you, you’re gonna look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”
He said at another point: “It is a war in a certain sense and we’re gonna end it fast.”
In a surprising statement, the president told the governors he is putting Joint Chiefs Chairman Milley, his top military adviser, “in charge” of the response to the domestic protests. The president did not explain what he meant by putting Milley “in charge.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did little to clarify the president’s meaning except to tell ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that the federal government would be deploying “additional federal assets” and that Milley would play a role in a “central command center” to coordinate the responses on the local level.
McEnany also sought to downplay the meaning of the president’s call for governors to “dominate” the streets, saying the president’s interest in calling for greater National Guard activation is not to squelch protests but to allow for them to proceed peacefully.
“When those lines are overwhelmed, law enforcement gets on the defense so what the president has said is he wants to dominate the streets with National Guard, with the police presence and what studies have shown… that when there is an overwhelming National Guard presence it actually deescalates the situation and causes less civil unrest. So Gen Milley has really been on point in talking about the National Guard. The effectiveness and ensuring that they are utilized to great effect across the country,” she said.
Some advisers have pushed the president to deliver an address to the nation about the worst civil unrest Americans have seen in decades. Trump has so far resisted, with no plan for remarks from the Oval Office, the setting for many momentous speeches during times of crises in previous presidencies.
McEnany on Monday pointed to Trump’s scripted remarks about Floyd and the protests that he delivered during a trip to Florida for a space shuttle launch. She disputed the notion the president has stayed silent.
“What I would note is that continual statements, as he has made day and day and day and day again, they don’t stop anarchy,” she told reporters at the White House. “What stops anarchy is action, and that’s what the president is working on right now.”
For three days, peaceful protests like those nationwide have ended yards from the White House, and each night the gatherings have devolved into clashes with police. On Friday, the White House went on lockdown, and the U.S. Secret Service whisked Trump to an underground bunker to shelter in place, according to senior sources familiar with the matter.
The White House has maintained an “elevated security posture,” with staffers on Monday discouraged from coming in and advised to hide their badges, according to an email sent to staff Sunday night.
In a series of tweets since late last week, Trump has fanned the flames of division by threatening to sic “vicious dogs” on protesters outside the White House — evoking ugly images of dogs used on African Americans in the 1960a — and writing, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The latter, made famous by a Miami police chief in the 1960s, was roundly condemned for its racist history.
Few Republicans have spoken out aside from the Senate’s lone black Republican, Tim Scott, of South Carolina, who called Trump’s tweets “not constructive.”
“I do think some of his tweets have not been helpful,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., said Monday. “It would be helpful if he changed the tone of his message.”
Over the weekend, the entire D.C. national guard was called up to assist with maintaining order, and a mix of law enforcement agencies — among them Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, the Secret Service, and U.S. Park Police — pushed back protesters near the White House.
Other federal units have joined, as well, including riot teams from the Bureau of Prisons and a Federal Bureau of Investigation hostage rescue team, a senior Department of Justice official said Monday.
Trump on Monday said in his call with the governors said Washington would be “under much more control” because “we’re pouring in and we’re going to pull in thousands of people.”
“We’re going to clamp down very strongly,” he said, later adding, “We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before.” He did not elaborate.
ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Sarah Kolinovsky, Katherine Faulders, Alexander Mallin and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.