President Donald Trump said in a tweet Sunday that he had ordered the National Guard to withdraw from Washington, D.C., after calling them in response to protests in the capital city that occasionally devolved into vandalism, looting and clashes with police.
“I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C., now that everything is under perfect control,” Trump tweeted. “They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!”
Protests have taken place in Washington, and across the U.S., since George Floyd, a black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer held him down with a knee on his neck. The president has called for a tough response to the protests in order to “dominate the streets” and has threatened to call in active-duty troops to quell unrest in cities where local authorities were unable to do so.
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Saturday’s protests were some of the largest and there were few problems reported at the peaceful events around the U.S. In Washington, it marked the ninth day of protests.
The Washington Post estimated the crowd size at about 10,000. On Friday, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press local officials were expecting 100,000 to 200,000 people to attend.
Trump was widely criticized after National Guard troops and other federal forces drove peaceful protesters from the area around the White House on Monday before he and other administration officials walked to a nearby church, which had been damaged the night before, to pose holding a BIble.
Attorney General William Barr said he had issued the order to clear the area and that his decision was not related to Trump’s walk to the church.
“When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block,” Barr said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had objected to the deployment of National Guard members in the city without her request and after she had rejected offers of assistance from other states.
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“We are well equipped to handle large demonstrations and First Amendment activities,” said Bowser in a letter to Trump dated Thursday, adding that the mass deployment of federal law enforcement officers and heavy equipment was serving to “inflame” demonstrations rather than secure them.
“This multiplicity of forces can breed dangerous confusion,” Bowser said.
Barr said Sunday Trump “absolutely” had the authority to send in federal troops into states under the 1807 Insurrection Act, even if the governor or other local authorities did not request them, citing the Civil War as an example of precedent.
“The Confederacy in our country opposed the use of federal troops to restore order and suppress an insurrection. So the federal government sometimes doesn’t listen to governors in certain circumstances,” Barr said.
Trump blasted Bowser on Twitter for her opposition to the use of the National Guard in a tweet on Friday, calling her “grossly incompetent, and in no way qualified to be running an important city like Washington, D.C.”
“If the great men and women of the National Guard didn’t step forward, she would have looked no better than her counterpart Mayor in Minneapolis!” Trump said, referring to Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey. Trump has criticized Frey for not cracking down more harshly on demonstrators in his city and blamed what he calls his inaction for the burning of a Minneapolis police precinct.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Kristine Phillips