President Donald Trump vowed to send US soldiers on to American streets to tackle the worst unrest the country has seen in decades unless mayors and governors took stronger action against the demonstrations that have erupted in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
“We are ending the riots and lawlessness, that has spread throughout our country. We will end it now,” Mr Trump said on Monday evening, following days of protests that have spread quickly through cities across the US.
Mr Trump called on governors to “dominate” the streets of their states by calling up National Guard units, but said local authorities who did not comply would have their security taken over by the Pentagon.
He claimed that largely peaceful protests had been infiltrated by anarchists and other agitators. As he spoke, police in Washington fired tear gas against peaceful demonstrators outside the White House who were chanting and holding placards.
“Our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals . . . and Antifa,” he said. “A number of state and local governments have failed to take necessary action to safeguard their residents.”
In his remarks, Mr Trump described himself as a the “president of law and order”, just hours after he told governors in the country that they needed to clamp down on protesters across the country.
Mr Trump said that while Americans were “rightly sickened and revolted by the brutal death” of Floyd, his administration “cannot allow the righteous cries and peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob”.
But his approach has fanned the flames of anger as people responded to the latest death of an African-American at the hands of white policemen.
Mr Trump delivered his remarks shortly before a 7pm curfew came into force in the US capital. Hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered in Lafayette Park, just across from the White House.
Trump aides had debated whether he should address the nation. Some argued that he needed to try to bring the country together, while others said he would achieve little and would end up looking weak if the protests continued.
On Monday afternoon, the Trump administration deployed Customs and Border Patrol officers in Washington, in a show of force before his White House remarks.
The Pentagon also deployed National Guard military police who were positioned across the street from the White House before the event.
“These ‘protests’ have devolved into chaos & acts of domestic terrorism by groups of radicals & agitators,” Mark Morgan, the acting head of US Customs and Border Protection tweeted.
Police on horseback were also positioned near the White House alongside Secret Service officers with no sign that the hundreds of protesters were preparing to leave the area to comply with the curfew.
Other cities that have seen an outburst of protests in recent days, including New York, are also facing curfews on Monday evening, even as more protests are planned.