WHITE HOUSE - Governors have received a lecture from U.S. President Donald Trump, the defense secretary and the attorney general, exhorting them to get tough with unruly protesters on the streets of America's cities.
In a conference call Monday with governors about the violent demonstrations across the country, the leaders of the states received a browbeating from the president.
"Most of you are weak," the president told them, according to an audio recording of the call. "You have to dominate. If you don't dominate, you're wasting your time. They're going to run over you, you're going to look like a bunch of jerks."
Trump is facing criticism for not adopting a traditional presidential role of "consoler-in-chief" since the death of African American George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis prompted a national outpouring of agony and anger.
The president, instead, has spent time on Twitter attacking former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic politicians, and lumping them in with the far-left radicals he blames for the violence in recent days.
The call with Trump on Monday was "deeply disturbing," said Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
"Instead of offering support or leadership to bring down the temperature at protests, President Trump told governors to 'put it down' or we would be 'overridden,'" she said in a statement.
About half of the governors have already activated National Guard units to assist law enforcement in quelling the unrest. But more members of the guard are needed on the streets, according to the president.
"They're ready, willing and able. They want to fight for the country," Trump said to the governors. "I wish we had an occupying force in there."
Los Angeles, specifically, is "not using the greatest resource you can use," Trump said of the military forces under state control.
"There will be additional federal assets deployed across the nation," White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday, but she declined to give specifics.
'Looking for weak spots'
Trump and the White House are blaming the violence on a loose coalition of far-left activists, known "antifa" (for anti-fascist).
The Republican president, up for reelection this November, warned on Twitter earlier that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Trump later denied that the phrase was a warning that vandals would be shot and said he did not know it had been used prominently by Miami's police chief in 1967 in response to violent crime in black neighborhoods.
"It's a movement that if you don't put it down it'll get worse and worse," said Trump to the governors Monday. "These are radicals and they are anarchists."
McEnany, asked at a White House briefing by a reporter about the Michigan governor's reaction, said she does not understand why Whitmer would be disturbed by the president telling governors to do their jobs.
Another Democrat, Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, told the president, "I've been extraordinarily concerned about the rhetoric that's been used by you. It's been inflammatory."
The president replied: "I don't like your rhetoric much either," criticizing Pritzker's response to the coronavirus outbreak. "I think you could've done a much better job, frankly."
Attorney General William Barr told the governors, "we have to control the streets ... and that requires a strong presence."
Professional instigators are looking to move from strong to weak states to cause mayhem, according to Barr, saying this was based on intelligence reports.
"They're all looking for weak spots," Trump said. "You got to arrest these people" and put them away for years. "These are terrorists. They're antifa and radical left."
Trump specifically called on New York City and Philadelphia "to toughen up." Trump said the initial response in Minnesota was "weak and pathetic," but Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, a Democrat, deserved praise for deploying the National Guard, which knocked down demonstrators "like bowling pins - a beautiful thing to watch."
On the conference call, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told the governors that "the sooner you mass and dominate the battle-space, the quicker that this dissipates."
A week after a 46-year-old Floyd died in police custody after a white police officer was filmed pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes, peaceful demonstrations have been overshadowed by urban violence across America. Businesses have been vandalized and looted, public monuments damaged and law enforcement officers firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters, some of whom have pelted police with bricks, firecrackers and bags of bodily fluids.
Thousands of people were arrested across the United States during demonstrations Saturday and Sunday.
California on Monday ordered state government buildings closed in downtown areas.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser moved up the nightly curfew by four hours to 7 p.m.
"Washington was under very good control, but we're going to have it under much more control," Trump said. "We're going to pull in thousands of people."
The president promised governors that "we're going to clamp down very, very strong" on the violence in the nation's capital, which has come within blocks of the White House.
"We're going to do something that people haven't seen before," added Trump without providing details.
McEnany said of Trump, "He does understand that pain" of the lawful demonstrators. She added, "it's really a shame" that radicals on the streets are dampening the message of the peaceful protesters.