Protests in the Twin Cities had grown violent in the past two days as thousands took to the streets to demand justice after the death of George Floyd in police custody. Video showed officers holding down Floyd, including one who had a knee to the man’s neck, leaving it there as Floyd pleaded that he could not breathe and eventually became unresponsive.
In an early-morning tweet on Friday, not long after protesters breached the barrier and set fire to a police precinct in the city, Trump said that he may be sending in the military and also appeared to endorse the idea of using deadly force on protesters.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted. “Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
The tweet generated controversy, leading Twitter to hide it behind a notice that it violated the site’s rules against glorifying violence.
As a number of experts told The Washington Post, they believed Trump was unlikely to follow through on sending in the U.S. military, even though it would be within his authority to do so. Lindsay Cohn, a professor at the Naval War College, noted that federal troops have only been called to quell unrest when local police have been unable to take control. She believed that Trump’s threat to use military force was “consistent with his tendency to use tough-guy rhetoric” rather than a genuine proposal.
“His base also tend to have very high confidence in the military and to see them as effective, so this appears to be politicized use of the idea of the military to appeal to the president’s political supporters,” she said.
Cohn added that the Pentagon has opposed the use of the U.S. military in response to unrest, instead leaving it up to states to decide and the National Guard to respond, thus making Trump’s threat even more unlikely.
Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told The Washington Post that Trump is also likely to leave the decision up to Minnesota, allowing him to let Governor Tim Walz take the blame if the situation can’t be brought under control.