President Donald Trump on Saturday morning warned protesters who forced the White House into partial lockdown would face “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” if they breached the building’s perimeter, praised the actions of the Secret Service and appeared to call his supporters to defy authorities by staging a counter protest.
“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. They 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,” Trump tweeted.
“Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence. 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. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action,” he added.
The president also appeared to call for a counter protest, tweeting: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”
The Secret Service partially sealed off the White House grounds Friday amid nationwide protests following the death of an African-American man in Minneapolis police custody. Trump had previously called the Minneapolis protesters “thugs” and threatened to unleash gunfire on them.
Asked by reporters later Saturday if he was stoking racial animus by calling for a counter protest, Trump said, “No, not at all. MAGA is make America great again. These are people that love our country. I have no idea if they’re going to be here. I was just asking. … By the way, they love African-American people. They love black people.”
Washington’s protest is among several that have erupted across the country, from Los Angeles to New York, even as some cities remain locked down amid the coronavirus pandemic. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the partial lifting of lockdown measures Wednesday, though gatherings of more than 10 remain prohibited.
Bowser tweeted on Saturday morning: “My 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 National Guard was on standby in Washington and has been activated in Atlanta and Minneapolis, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz early Saturday moving to activate another 1,000 Guard soldiers, adding he was considering federal help. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Saturday ordered the deployment of up to 500 members of the Guard to Atlanta.
A protester faces a US Secret Service uniformed division officer during a protest on George Floyd's death outside the White House in Washington, DC.
📷 Tom Brenner/Reuters pic.twitter.com/HvLKXaUZHG
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 30, 2020
Protesters and Secret Service officers scuffled outside the White House fence. Video circulating on social media and photos on wire services showed a protester being detained by Secret Service officers. Protesters eventually moved from the White House toward the Capitol.
By around 11:30 p.m., a group of protesters had returned to the White House and pushed back against barricades set up by police and Secret Service officers. Protesters were barred from approaching the White House at Lafayette Park. The two sides stood in a tense stand off, in contrast to the violent altercations with police that have occurred in other cities.
In a statement released Saturday, the USSS said its officers had made 6 arrests in and around Lafayette Park and along Pennsylvania Ave. near the White House, adding that some demonstrators hurled bricks, bottles and fireworks and attempted to knock over security barriers but none breached the White House perimeter.
The statement noted that Metropolitan Police officers were on scene alongside the U.S. Park Police, contradicting a Trump tweet criticizing Bowser for a lack of local police involvement.
Reporters who were at the White House said they were not able to leave the complex early Friday evening, with the doors to the briefing room locked. Secret Service officials told reporters the situation outside was not contained enough to open the doors. A White House official told POLITICO those in the complex could leave via the south entrance.
Reporters were allowed to leave the building around 8:30 p.m.
Reporters had gathered at the White House on Friday afternoon for a briefing by Trump announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The president declined to address the upheaval in Minnesota and did not take questions.
Trump later remarked on the nationwide unrest during a White House event, saying that it was important to “protect the rights for peaceful protesters.”
“We can’t allow a situation like what happened in Minneapolis to descend further into lawless anarchy and chaos,” he said. “I understand the hurt. I understand the pain. People have really been through a lot.”
“The family of George is entitled to justice, and the people of Minnesota are entitled to live in safety,” Trump added.
Protests in Minneapolis have gone on for five days, leading to a curfew being imposed Friday night. Demonstrators previously set fire to the 3rd Precinct Minneapolis police station. Hundreds of protesters defied the curfew and continued marching in Minneapolis on Friday night.
Trump tweeted his disdain for the Minneapolis protesters early Friday, referring to them as “THUGS” and threatening them with gunfire. Twitter flagged his remarks as “glorifying violence” — one of the first warning labels the social media giant has issued to the president’s often incendiary tweets. Facebook has said the post had not breached its guidelines.
The president later attempted to clarify his remarks.