Trump threatens to unleash gunfire on Minnesota protesters

President Donald Trump late Thursday appeared to urge the shooting of looters in Minnesota, bursting into a volatile national debate over the death of an African-American man in police custody and issuing an online provocation against U.S. citizens so extraordinary it was partially obscured by Twitter.

“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right,” Trump tweeted minutes before midnight.

In the second part of his message, Trump tweeted: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”

The president’s late-night post, which came at the end of the third day of raging protests in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, earned a warning label from Twitter for violating its policies on “glorifying violence.” But the popular social media platform “determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” and allowed users to view Trump’s tweet if they chose. Twitter’s communications team also tweeted it had “placed a public interest notice” on the post in part due to the “risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

The arrest Monday and death hours later of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, sparked national outrage and demonstrations across the country after a bystander’s video of his encounter with Minneapolis police showed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he repeatedly pleads for air, eventually becomes motionless and is put onto a gurney by paramedics.

Dozens of businesses across the Twin Cities boarded up their storefronts Thursday to prevent looting, while Minneapolis-based Target announced it was temporarily closing two dozen area stores and the city shut down nearly its entire light-rail system and all bus service through Sunday. By nightfall, protesters had set fire to the 3rd Precinct Minneapolis police station — which covers the portion of south Minneapolis where Floyd was arrested — forcing the department to abandon the building.

Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, announced Tuesday the firings of the four officers involved in the arrest, and called Wednesday for criminal charges to be brought against Derek Chauvin, the officer who immobilized Floyd. Walz, the Minnesota governor, activated the National Guard at Frey’s request Thursday, but no Guard members could be seen during protests in the Twin Cities.

It is unclear whether Trump knew of Walz’s decision to call in the Guard at the time he posted his tweet Thursday night, but the president nevertheless is empowered to bring the military reserve force under federal command at any time by formally placing its members on active duty.

Trump previously weighed in Wednesday on the “very sad and tragic death in Minnesota of George Floyd,” tweeting that he had requested an FBI and Justice Department investigation into the matter “to be expedited” and vowing: “Justice will be served!”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters at a news briefing Thursday that the president was being briefed on the situation by Attorney General William Barr and the deputy director of the FBI, and went on to describe Trump’s reaction to the viral video of Floyd’s arrest. “He was very upset by it. It was egregious, appalling, tragic,” she said.

Floyd’s death came just weeks after a video of the fatal February shooting of a black man in Georgia, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, began circulating widely on social media. That footage provoked a similar uproar among Americans, and the president described it earlier this month as “very, very disturbing” to watch. He added that “law enforcement is going to look at” the incident and predicted Gov. Brian Kemp was “going to do what’s right.”

Despite his recent comments and public calls for further investigation of the pair of high-profile cases, Trump’s incendiary tweets Thursday could chip away at whatever gains his reelection campaign has sought to make with the African-American voters ahead of November. The president has often promoted his administration’s backing of a criminal justice bill he signed in 2018 as evidence of his commitment to the black community, and argued that Democrats take support from African-Americans for granted. “What the hell do you have to lose?” he controversially asked in 2016, imploring African Americans to abandon Democrats and support his first White House bid.

However, Trump’s warning Thursday that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” seemingly referenced a more infamous historical predicate: Miami Police Chief Walter Headley reportedly uttered the same phrase at a December 1967 news conference. A federal task force concluded his words contributed to the escalated local tensions that resulted in a deadly, three-day riot the following summer coinciding with the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach — where former Vice President Richard Nixon was nominated as the party’s candidate for president.

*story by Politico