President Trump on Monday invoked a law from 1807 allowing him to send military forces to states rocked by unrest over the death of George Floyd in a sudden White House Rose Garden address interrupted by the sounds of protestors being cleared out by police nearby.
“We cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob,” Trump said, declaring himself the “president of law and order” while blaming extremist groups such as Antifa for the unrest.
“I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop rioting and looting, to end the destruction,” he said, immediately mobilizing the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows him to deploy troops anywhere across the nation.
It was last used in 1992, by President George H.W. Bush to quell the LA riots, which were sparked by the police beating of Rodney King.
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said of the act.
Under the Civil War-era Posse Comitatus Act, federal troops are prohibited from performing domestic law enforcement actions such as making arrests, seizing property or searching people. In extreme cases, however, the president can invoke the Insurrection Act, which allows the use of active-duty or National Guard troops for law enforcement.
The president’s last-minute address came in juxtaposition to the scene outside, where a series of military vehicles rolled out front on Pennsylvania Avenue and military police and law enforcement clashed with protesters at Lafayette Park, firing tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets and pepper spray on a large but peaceful crowd.
Trump described the scenes of violent rioting and looting which have rocked the nation for the past week as a “total disgrace” and said anyone who didn’t respect curfew orders would be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“I am taking these actions today to reaffirm resolve and with a true and passionate love for our country, by far our great days lie ahead,” he said as chaos unfolded in the streets around the White House.
Following his address, Trump walked out of the front of the White House gates, through Lafayette Park to Washington’s historic St John’s Episcopal Church which was partly destroyed in a fire lit by rioters on Sunday evening.
Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and chief of staff Mark Meadows were among the high-ranking officials with Trump, who posed for photos outside the boarded-up church, holding a Bible, where protesters had been demonstrating just minutes earlier.
The police made the aggressive advance on more than a thousand protesters outside the executive address following days of unrest across the nation over the death of George Floyd in police custody.
Earlier Monday, President Trump lashed into governors for their response to the week-long crisis — calling them “weak” and telling them to needed to take control of the unrest following Floyd’s death.
On May 1, 1992, Bush deployed 4,000 Army and Marine troops to South Central Los Angeles in the effort to end two days of rampant rioting that included 40 people killed, more than 1,500 injured, more than 3,700 fires and more than 3,000 arrests, the Washington Post reported at the time.
Bush addressed the nation that day, saying the violence in Los Angeles is “not about civil rights” or “the great issues of equality” but “the brutality of a mob, pure and simple.” He said he would “use whatever force necessary” to restore order.
That rioting had come after four white Los Angeles police officers who were caught on video beating black motorist King on March 3, 1991, were virtually exonerated by a jury. Bush said he, too, was “stunned” at the verdict, the paper reported.
In 1993, Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell, two of the four officers, were found guilty by a federal jury of violating King’s civil rights. They both served 30 months in prison and did not return to the police force. The other two officers, Timothy Wind and Theodore Briseno, were both fired by the LAPD.