WASHINGTON – Amid racial unrest across the nation, President Donald Trump on Monday declared himself "the president of law and order," threatening to deploy the U.S. military to quell a rise of violent protests.
As Trump spoke, an incredible TV split screen developed around the White House. While he addressed the nation in the Rose Garden, a series of military vehicles rolled out front on Pennsylvania Avenue and military police and law enforcement clashed with protesters at Lafayette Park.
Those demonstrators were cleared so Trump could walk across the park to St. John's Episcopal Church, known as "The Church of the Presidents," which was damaged by a fire in a protest on Sunday. Holding a Bible, he stood with several of his Cabinet members as the cameras clicked.
"We have the greatest country in the world," Trump declared. "We're going to keep it safe."
Trump said he would mobilize "thousands and thousands" of soldiers to keep the peace if governors did not use the National Guard to shut down the protests. Loud tear gas explosions could be heard as authorities moved what appeared to be peaceful protests in the park. The escalation came just after Attorney General William Barr came to the park to survey the demonstrators.
According to senior defense officials, between 600 and 800 National Guard members from five states were being sent to Washington to provide assistance. Those troops were either already on the ground or were to arrive by midnight.
The White House event came hours after Trump derided many governors as "weak" and demanded tougher crackdowns on burning and stealing among some demonstrations in dozens of U.S. cities.
He spoke to governors on a video teleconference that also included law enforcement and national security officials, telling the state leaders they "have to get much tougher."
"Most of you are weak," Trump said. "You have to arrest people."
The demonstrations have turned violent in several cities, with people trashing stores, smashing and burning police cars and igniting fires.
The president urged the governors to deploy the National Guard, which he credited for helping calm the situation Sunday night in Minneapolis. He demanded that similarly tough measures be taken in cities that also experienced violence, including New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.
He praised Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, and when someone made a comment about the Minnesota response looking like an occupying force, Trump said that after the recent violence, "people wouldn't have minded an occupying force."
He added that the first phase of the response in Minneapolis was "weak and pathetic." The National Guard phase was "domination … It couldn't be any better. It was a beautiful thing to watch."
"You've got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you'll never see this stuff again," said Trump. "We're doing it in Washington, D.C. We're going to do something that people haven't seen before."
Barr, who was also on the call, told governors that a joint terrorist task force would be used to track agitators and urged local officials to "dominate" the streets and control, not react to crowds. He urged the governors to "go after troublemakers."
Trump's angry exhortations at the nation's governors came after a Sunday night of escalating violence, images of fires and looting and clashes with police filling the nation's airwaves and overshadowing the largely peaceful protests. The protests had grown so heated Friday night that the Secret Service rushed the president to an underground bunker previously used during terrorist attacks.
Trump didn't appear in public on Sunday and had not been scheduled to on Monday either.