WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday angrily denounced the demonstrators who have used violence to call attention to the deaths of black men killed by the police as “organizers” of terrorism, and threatened to send the American military to states where governors could not bring the protests under control.
“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents,” Mr. Trump said in brief remarks in the Rose Garden, “then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”
As the president began speaking, the police used tear gas and flash grenades to clear out the crowd that had gathered across the street in Lafayette Square so Mr. Trump could walk to St. John’s Episcopal Church afterward and pose for photographs while holding a Bible outside the boarded-up church.
St. John’s, the so-called Church of the Presidents, had been briefly set ablaze as the protests devolved on Sunday evening. After Mr. Trump’s aides spent much of the day Monday expressing outrage over the burning of a place of worship, one of his most trusted advisers, Hope Hicks, worked with others on ideas, eventually hatching a plan to have Mr. Trump walk over to the building, according to an official familiar with the plans.
Bishop Mariann E. Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said that she had not been told Mr. Trump would be making the trek.
“He did not pray,” she said. “We need a president who can unify and heal. He has done the opposite of that, and we are left to pick up the pieces.”
In his speech, Mr. Trump vowed to bring “law and order” to protests across the country that have sometimes led to looting and arson and reserved some of his harshest language for protesters in Washington, where demonstrations on Friday night forced his evacuation to a protected White House bunker. They continued with a growing intensity on Saturday night, and again on Sunday night, when St. John’s briefly caught fire.
“What happened in this city last night was a total disgrace,” Mr. Trump said. “As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property.”
The president blamed the destruction on the nation’s governors. “States have failed to take care of their citizens, like the young man in Dallas who was left dying on the street or the woman in upstate New York viciously attacked by thugs,” Mr. Trump said, recounting some of the violent episodes that angered him.
His remedy is a federal law that gives the president broad power to federalize states’ National Guard troops or to send in the military to restore order in a situation when rioting has left local authorities unable to enforce the law.
It is not always necessary for a governor to request that the federal government send in troops for domestic law enforcement purposes, legal specialists said. Some laws ultimately leave it up to the president to determine when such an intervention is necessary.
Mr. Trump told the Army on Monday to deploy active-duty military police to Washington, a military official said, but the deployment may not be limited to those units. Washington is the one jurisdiction in the country where the Army can do so without first consulting the governor of a state.
The deployment of the military police unit — a battalion of some 200 to 500 troops from Fort Bragg, N.C. — is a sharp escalation in the response to the riots and protests until now mounted by the Secret Service and the local police. One military official likened the deployment to Mr. Trump requesting his own “palace guard” to protect him from protesters.
In addition to the active-duty military police and engineering units on their way to Washington, the Defense Department has also requested 600 to 800 additional National Guard troops from Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Utah join 1,200 D.C. National Guard troops, a Pentagon official said Monday night. Some of those troops are on their way, and others are already in the capital.
Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, whose state has been at the center of the protests, has declined Mr. Trump’s offer of a military police response in his state, and other governors have followed Mr. Walz’s lead.
Mr. Trump’s address in the Rose Garden — an event that aides were not certain would take place until about 20 minutes before he delivered it — was shaded in anger and laced with the increasingly aggressive language he had used in the 48 hours since he observed a rocket launch in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
There, he devoted much of a speech to the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died after his neck was pinned under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“We are reminded that America is always in the process of transcending great challenges,” the president said that afternoon after two astronauts were sent into orbit.
But after Mr. Trump spent the rest of the weekend imbibing news coverage of the protests, including the attempted arson of St. John’s Church, a much darker interpretation of the nation’s struggles had emerged.
By the time he hosted a nearly hourlong private conference call on Monday with a group of the nation’s governors, the president had reverted to the strong-arm language he favors when discussing law enforcement.
“You have to dominate,” Mr. Trump told the governors, warning them that “you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks” if the National Guard were not heavily deployed in protest areas.
“You have to do retribution,” he said, according to an audio recording of the call obtained by The New York Times, demanding the governors “fight back” or at least sentence the protesters to stiff prison terms.
“And you can’t do the deal where they get one week in jail,” he said. “These are terrorists. These are terrorists. And they’re looking to do bad things to our country.”
Mr. Trump’s comments drew an emotional response from governors of both parties, who did not seem prepared to use the tactics he suggested against protesters.
“A posture of a force on the ground is both unsustainable militarily, it’s also unsustainable socially,” Mr. Walz told reporters soon after the call, “because it’s the antithesis of how we live.”
His aggressive language was a breaking point for at least one moderate Republican who has largely avoided conflict with Mr. Trump, Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts.
“I know I should be surprised when I hear incendiary words like this from him, but I’m not,” Mr. Baker told reporters in Boston, alluding to Mr. Trump’s urging the governors to “dominate” protesters.
“At so many times during these past several weeks, when the country needed compassion and leadership the most, it was simply nowhere to be found,” said Mr. Baker, his voice breaking. “Instead, we got bitterness, combativeness and self-interest.”
The exchanges and his remarks later in the day illustrated the depth of Mr. Trump’s anger over the at-times violent protests that have bubbled up in more than 100 American cities. They also revealed how precarious his relationships with the nation’s governors have become after months of tangling with them over a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even members of Mr. Trump’s administration privately admitted on Monday that they have struggled to keep up as the president careened from speaking about Mr. Floyd’s death on Saturday in Florida to calling for militarized crackdowns.
For days, aides had debated sending the president out for a formal address, with some wanting to wait until there were more concrete plans to announce to the nation, including action items to address racial tensions, a person familiar with the discussions said.
But on Monday, the president was squarely focused on the protesters, first in his call with the governors and then in the Rose Garden.
He briefly mentioned Mr. Floyd in his statement and only addressed him at the end of the governor’s call after Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat, said his comments have inflamed race relations in the United States.
“We have to call for calm,” Mr. Pritzker, whose state was hit with a wave of looting over the weekend, told the president. “The rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse,” he added.
Mr. Trump rejected the criticism. “I don’t like your rhetoric much either,” he said.
Mr. Trump made it clear throughout the call that he was not about to take a moment of deep national crisis to appeal for reconciliation. The president, who had just spoken with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia before addressing the governors, told them that Minnesota had become “a laughingstock all over the world.”
Other governors pushed back, suggesting Mr. Trump’s presence in their states could provoke unrest. Gov. Janet Mills of Maine, a Democrat, told the president that his planned trip to a medical swab factory north of Bangor this week “may cause security problems.” Mr. Trump responded by dismissing her caution and saying he was even more determined to go.
After the president made extensive and uncorroborated claims about the protesters being part of an organized cabal, Ms. Mills, with evident skepticism, asked for proof. “I’d love to get the intelligence you appear to have access to,” she said.
But not all of the governors were uneasy with Mr. Trump’s language, particularly his fellow Republicans. After Ms. Mills sought to dissuade the president from going to Maine, Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia spoke up when it was another governor’s turn to say that the president was welcome in his state.
And Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina seemed to echo some of Mr. Trump’s conspiratorial thinking. Mr. McMaster said that some of the protesters were being paid, and “we even hear some of them get a bonus if they get arrested.”
On the call, Mr. Trump made clear his admiration for the tactics deployed by the National Guard, repeatedly offering a sort of play-by-play commentary of what he was witnessing on television, delighting in protesters being knocked down “like bowling pins” and sounding more like a bystander than the president.
Later, in an appearance on CNN, Mr. Pritzker and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York declined Mr. Trump’s call for more troops. Mr. Cuomo called the president’s remarks “shameful, really truly shameful.”
Mr. Trump told the governors he was putting Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “in charge,” but did not immediately specify what that meant or if he would deploy the military to quell the violence in the nation’s cities. At the Pentagon, officials expressed surprise at Mr. Trump’s comments, and referred questions to the White House.
Mr. Trump has long used language favored by authoritarians when speaking about protesters. In 1990, he told Playboy magazine that Beijing showed “the power of strength” when it used deadly military force to quell the student-led demonstrations at Tiananmen Square the year before.
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it,” Mr. Trump said. “Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”
In 2016, Mr. Trump said the comments were not an endorsement, before calling the students “rioters” and reiterating that a “strong, powerful government” stopped the protests.
As president, he has openly nudged law enforcement officers to treat those apprehended with harsh tactics.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” Mr. Trump said to applause from Long Island police officers in a 2017 speech.
Almost on cue, after Mr. Trump concluded his Rose Garden speech, camouflage-clad police from the National Guard surged in front of the first line of law enforcement officers that had already pushing protesters back from the mouth of Lafayette Square.
With the area cleared by officers using riot control methods, Mr. Trump, whose aides winced as he was mocked by his critics for having retreated to the bunker below the White House complex on Friday night, left the White House and walked to St. John’s Church, where he has rarely ventured since taking office. It was a few hours after Joseph R. Biden Jr., the president’s opponent, had appeared with black leaders in a Delaware church.
As Attorney General William P. Barr and several other administration officials, all of them white, appeared next to Mr. Trump, he stood in front of the sanctuary and hoisted a Bible to the sky while a cacophony of sirens blared in the background.
“Greatest country in the world,” Mr. Trump said, without opening the book or offering a prayer. “And we’re going to keep it safe.”
Bishop Budde denounced the way the president held up the Bible, a move she interpreted as a political prop.
“The Bible is not an American document,” she said. “It’s not an expression of our country. It’s an expression of the human struggle to serve and love and know God.”
Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper, Katie Rogers and Katie Benner from Washington, and Mihir Zaveri from New York.