As the sound of sirens wailed and flash bangs popped across the street, President Donald Trump announced from the Rose Garden that he would use the U.S. military to stop the riots across the county that have been sparked by the death of George Floyd.
“I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law abiding Americans,” Trump said in the extraordinary address, which was delivered as police fired tear gas outside to push protesters back from the White House.
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions 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, referring to himself as “your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters.”
To activate the military to operate in the U.S., Trump would have to invoke the 213-year-old Insurrection Act, which four people familiar with the decision had told NBC News he planned to do.
The military police forces would come from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and possibly Fort Belvoir in Virginia and could arrive in Washington within hours, these people said.
Trump’s decision to invoke the act, adopted in 1807, to deploy troops comes as his frustrations mount over the protests that have followed the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in police custody last week in Minneapolis. The people familiar with his decision said Trump was angry Sunday night at the destruction protestors caused in Washington, particularly the vandalization of national monuments.
Some of the president’s aides have been encouraging him for days to invoke the act, as he weighs options for exercising executive powers to address the crisis. The act was last invoked during the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.
Trump’s remarks came hours after he urged the nation’s governors to get “tough” with unruly demonstrators. “Most of you are weak,” he told them, according to audio of the call obtained by NBC News. “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time, they’re gonna run over you, you’re gonna look like a bunch of jerks,” the president said.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the president’s plans but at a briefing with reporters Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany left open the possibility that the president could invoke the act.
“The Insurrection Act, it’s one of the tools available, whether the president decides to pursue that, that’s his prerogative,“ McEnany said.
Governors can ask that the federal government send active duty troops to help in cases of civil unrest like the widespread protests plaguing U.S. cities over the last several days. But, so far, no governor has requested active duty troops to assist and instead they have relied on local law enforcement and National Guard soldiers and airmen on state active duty.
Governors often prefer the National Guard forces in these cases because they can legally perform law enforcement duties in the U.S., whereas troops on active duty cannot without violating the Posse Comitatus Act, a 1878 law that prohibits the government from using military forces to act as a police force within U.S. borders.
But the president could invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty troops without a request from a governor. Those troops would be allowed to conduct law enforcement missions. To invoke the act, Trump would first have to issue a proclamation to “immediately order the insurgents to disperse and retire peaceably to their abodes within a limited time,” according to the law.
In the past the Justice Department has drafted such proclamations. And according to the Congressional Research Service, the act has been invoked many times throughout U.S. history, although rarely since the 1960s civil rights era. When it was invoked in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, the move was requested by then-California Gov. Pete Wilson, not invoked solely by President George H.W. Bush.
The Defense Department declined to comment on the possibility that the president could invoke the act.
One of Trump’s allies outside the White House, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., urged Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act “if necessary” so U.S. troops can “support our local law enforcement and ensure that this violence ends tonight.”