After a night of protests and racial unrest in US cities, President Donald Trump used Saturday morning messages to declare himself safe inside the White House, lash out at a Democratic mayor and raise the prospect of another demonstration with his supporters later in the day.
In a series of tweets, Trump commended the US Secret Service for protecting him inside his fortified mansion on Friday evening as protesters gathered outside over the death of George Floyd. The President suggested that dogs and weaponry were waiting inside the gates.
Calling the protests organized and a disservice to the cause of racial justice, Trump insinuated that his own supporters might stage their own rally in front of the White House on Saturday evening, a volatile suggestion at a fraught national moment.
Later in the day, speaking at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida after the launch of the NASA/SpaceX rocket, Trump admonished protesters across the country, expressed support for the “majority of police officers” and blamed Antifa and the “radical left” – without any proof – in his most in-depth remarks since Floyd’s death and the ensuing nationwide demonstrations.
“I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace. And I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob, attack and menace. Healing, not hatred, justice, not chaos, are the mission at hand,” Trump said.
Trump added the voice of “law abiding citizens must be heard and heard very loudly.”
“We must defend the rights of every citizen to live without violence, prejudice or fear,” Trump said before voicing support for “the overwhelming majority of police officers who are incredible in every way and devoted public servants.”
“No one is more upset than fellow law enforcement officers by the small handful who failed to abide by their oath to serve and protect,” Trump added.
In his morning Twitter messages, Trump did not seek to lower the temperature or console Americans who find themselves facing parallel health and racial crises.
“Great job last night at the White House by the U.S. @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool. I was inside, watched every move, and couldn’t have felt more safe,” Trump said on Twitter.
The President on Thursday had used the threat of police retaliation and military intervention in Minnesota where protests turned violent and destructive – saying on Twitter that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Trump’s tweets on Saturday also invoked imagery tied to brutal civil rights-era police tactics.
The Secret Service “let the ‘protesters’ scream & rant as much as they wanted, but whenever someone…got too frisky or out of line, they would quickly come down on them, hard - didn’t know what hit them,” the President wrote. “If they had they would…have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That’s when people would have been really badly hurt, at least.”
Trump alleged, without evidence, that protesters in Lafayette Park Friday night were, “professionally managed.” There is no indication that they were.
“The professionally managed so-called ‘protesters’ at the White House had little to do with the memory of George Floyd. They were just there to cause trouble. The @SecretService handled them easily,” the President wrote.
“Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he added, which CNN reached out to the White House for comment about.
Asked by a reporter later Saturday if he was concerned whether his tweets were stoking racial violence, Trump replied, “No, not at all.”
“MAGA is ‘Make America Great Again.’ These are people that love our country,” Trump said as he departed the White House for Florida. “I have no idea if they’re going to be here. I was just asking.”
When asked if the President was calling on his supporters to protest, Trump said, “I don’t care.”
Trump also criticized DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, claiming she didn’t allow the DC police to get involved in the protests outside the White House. The Secret Service, however, later confirmed that the DC police department and US Park police were on the scene.
Bowser responded to Trump on Twitter Saturday, saying that the DC police department, “will always protect DC and all who are in it whether I agree with them (such as those exercising their First Amendment Right) or those I don’t (namely, @realdonaldtrump).”
The DC mayor said while Trump “hides behind his fence afraid/alone,” she stands with people “peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder” of Floyd and “hundreds of years of institutional racism.”
Protesters clash with Secret Service outside of White House
Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, died this week after pleading for help as a police officer used his knee on Floyd’s neck to pin him – unarmed and handcuffed – to the ground. His death has ignited protests across the United States.
For more than five hours overnight, protesters on Friday confronted Secret Service officers outside the White House – shouting, throwing water bottles and other objects at the line of officers, and attempting to break through the metal barriers.
At times, the crowd would remove the metal barriers and begin pushing up against the officers and their riot shields. The Secret Service continually replaced the barriers throughout the night as protesters wrestled them away.
Protesters pushed hard enough a few times that officers had to walk away with what appeared to be minor injuries. At one point, the agents responded to aggressive pushing and yelling by using pepper spray on the protesters.
Throughout the night, protesters could be heard chanting their support for Floyd and their dislike of Trump.
The protest, which began around 10 p.m. ET, Friday night outside the White House, had mostly quieted down by 3:30 a.m. ET, Saturday morning.
The crowd thinned out and Secret Service officers were able to expand their perimeter and barriers around Lafayette Park across from the White House.
Earlier Friday night, protesters in Washington, DC, had gathered and the White House was initially locked down as crowds began to move toward that location.
“Secret Service personnel are currently assisting other law enforcement agencies during a demonstration in Lafayette Park. In the interest of public safety we encourage all to remain peaceful,” the Secret Service tweeted Friday night.
The lockdown at the White House was lifted just before 8:30 p.m. ET, as protesters marched to different parts of the city, before returning later in the evening.
CNN has reached out to the DC police department for comment about the overnight confrontations.
Six arrests were made during the protests, the Secret Service confirmed in a statement Saturday afternoon.
Multiple Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers and Special Agents sustained injuries after violence from some of the demonstrators, according to the agency.
“No individuals crossed the White House fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in any danger,” the agency said.
This story has been updated with additional comment from the US Secret Service and Trump.
CNN’s Dave Brooks, Jay McMichael, Jake Scheuer, Wayne Cross, Veronica Stracqualursi, Nikki Carvajal, Nicky Robertson and Jason Hoffman contributed to this report.