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Trump threatens to use troops to crush unrest
PRESIDENT Donald Trump threatened to deploy the US military to end "riots and lawlessness" across the country in a Rose Garden address punctuated by the sound of explosions as federal officers dispersed peaceful demonstrators just outside the White House gates.
Mr Trump on Monday night called on governors and mayors to "dominate the streets" and announced that he was sending thousands of heavily armed military personnel into the nation's capital after days of violent outbursts following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The comments preceded another night of sometimes violent unrest in US cities, including New York, where looting and arrests continued despite a curfew.
In a conference call with governors earlier on Monday, Mr Trump signalled his desire to appear more in control, demanding the state officials - who he labelled as "weak" - toughen their response to the demonstrations.
"You have to dominate," Mr Trump told governors and law enforcement. "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."
The president and other White House officials didn't answer questions about what authority he would use to deploy the military outside the federally-controlled capital city, but three people familiar with the matter said Mr Trump was considering invoking the Insurrection Act.
That 1807 law, previously used to intervene during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, allows the president to federalise the National Guard and bring in the US military if states are unable to safeguard constitutionally protected civil rights.
Mr Trump said he would deploy the military "if a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents", suggesting he might become the first president to invoke the act without the support of state governors.
The effort could face legal challenges because of the Civil War-era Posse Comitatus Act, which prevents federal troops from preforming domestic law enforcement activities.
Democratic lawmakers said they were alarmed by Mr Trump's threat to dispatch the US military against Americans demonstrating against police brutality.
But the president made clear that Monday's show of force was intended to show that his patience had run out over three days of protests that at one point flared violently enough to drive Mr Trump into an underground security bunker.
Re-establishing a sense of control is crucial for a president who has been widely faulted for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 Americans and paralysed the economy.
Mr Trump and his aides believe the protests are an opportunity to win over voters frustrated by the destruction caused by some of the participants.
After speaking, Mr Trump took an unannounced walk across the street from the White House through Lafayette Square - with tear gas hanging in the air that had been used to clear away protesters - to visit Saint John's Episcopal Church.
The house of worship, known as "The Church of Presidents", had been damaged in a fire the previous night, as police and protesters clashed in the streets of Washington.
At the church, Mr Trump held a Bible he had brought from the White House in the air and gathered top aides to pose for photos.
"We have the greatest country in the world," Mr Trump said. "We're going to keep it safe."
The president's words and actions drew immediate outcries from his critics, who argued that Mr Trump had only further inflamed tensions and undercut his claim - made as flash-bang grenades detonated mere blocks away - that he was "an ally of all peaceful protesters".
Washington Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde said in a CNN interview that Mr Trump used the Bible and the church as "without permission as the backdrop of a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for".
"I am outraged," she added about the fact that he used tear gas by police officers and riot gear to clear out the crowd.
And New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in an interview with the same network that Mr Trump was merely attempting to appeal to his political base. "The president wants to make it a reality TV show of God and country, call out the military, and then I go to a church and hold up a Bible," Mr Cuomo added. BLOOMBERG