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Trump threatens to unleash gunfire on Minnesota protesters

President Donald Trump on Friday appeared to urge the shooting of looters in Minnesota, bursting into a volatile national debate over the death of an African-American man in police custody and issuing an online provocation against U.S. citizens so extraordinary it was partially obscured by Twitter.

“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right,” Trump tweeted minutes before 1 a.m.

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In the second part of his message, Trump wrote: “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. 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 president’s early morning post, which came at the beginning of the fourth day of raging protests in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, earned a warning label from Twitter for violating its policies on “glorifying violence.”

But the social media platform “determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” and allowed users to view Trump’s tweet if they chose. Twitter’s communications team also tweeted it had “placed a public interest notice” on the post in part due to the “risk it could inspire similar actions today.”

Protests have cropped up across the country since the arrest Monday and death hours later of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, in Minneapolis. A bystander’s video of his encounter with police, which sparked national outrage, showed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he repeatedly pleads for air, eventually becomes motionless and is put onto a gurney by paramedics.

Dozens of businesses across the Twin Cities have boarded up their storefronts to prevent looting, while Minneapolis-based Target announced it was temporarily closing two dozen area stores and the city shut down nearly its entire light-rail system and all bus service through Sunday.

By nightfall Thursday, protesters had set fire to the 3rd Precinct Minneapolis police station — which covers the portion of south Minneapolis where Floyd was arrested — forcing the department to abandon the building.

Frey, the Minneapolis mayor, announced Tuesday the firings of the four officers involved in the arrest, and called Wednesday for criminal charges to be brought against Derek Chauvin, the officer who immobilized Floyd.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Friday he had “every expectation” charges will be filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and defended the caution with which he said prosecutors were approaching the case.

“They want to make sure they have a case that sticks, and unfortunately that is taking more time than anyone of us want,” he told CNN, adding: “We are pushing to get those charges filed as soon as we can.”

Walz, the Minnesota governor, activated the National Guard at Frey’s request Thursday, but no Guard members could be seen during protests in the Twin Cities.

It is unclear whether Trump knew of Walz’s decision to call in the Guard at the time he posted his tweet Friday morning, but the president nevertheless is empowered to bring the military reserve force under federal command at any time by formally placing its members on active duty.

The president’s latest tweets regarding the events in Minneapolis represent a stark reversal from his previous tone on the matter.

On Wednesday, Trump lamented the “very sad and tragic death in Minnesota of George Floyd,” tweeting that he had requested an FBI and Justice Department investigation “to be expedited” and vowing: “Justice will be served!”

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday that the president was being briefed on the situation by Attorney General William Barr and the deputy director of the FBI, and went on to characterize Trump’s reaction to the viral video of Floyd’s arrest.

“He was very upset by it. It was egregious, appalling, tragic,” she said.

Floyd’s death came just weeks after a video of the fatal February shooting of a black man in Georgia, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, began circulating widely on social media.

That footage provoked a similar uproar among Americans, and the president described it earlier this month as “very, very disturbing” to watch. He also said that “law enforcement is going to look at” the incident and predicted Gov. Brian Kemp was “going to do what’s right.”

Despite his recent comments and public calls for further investigation of the two high-profile cases, Trump’s incendiary tweets Friday could chip away at whatever gains his reelection campaign has sought to make with the African-American voters ahead of November.

The president has often promoted his administration’s backing of a criminal justice bill he signed in 2018 as evidence of his commitment to the black community, and argued that Democrats take the votes of African Americans for granted.

“What the hell do you have to lose?” he controversially asked in 2016, imploring African Americans to abandon the Democratic Party and support his first White House bid.

However, Trump’s warning Friday that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” echoed a more infamous historical predicate: Miami Police Chief Walter Headley reportedly uttered the same phrase at a December 1967 news conference.

A federal task force later concluded Headley’s words had contributed to the escalated local tensions that resulted in a deadly, three-day riot the following summer coinciding with the 1968 Republican National Convention in Miami Beach — where former Vice President Richard Nixon was nominated as the party’s candidate for president.

Twitter has now altered in some form three of Trump’s tweets in recent days, flagging with fact-check warnings two posts Tuesday that falsely claimed mail-in ballots are likely to be “substantially fraudulent.”

The company’s first-of-its-kind intervention on the president’s preferred social media feed elicited significant fury from the White House, culminating in an executive order Thursday seeking to limit the scope of a 1996 law that shields tech companies from many lawsuits.

On Friday morning, Trump again attacked Twitter after it labeled his tweet about the Minnesota protests, writing that the platform has “targeted Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States. Section 230 should be revoked by Congress. Until then, it will be regulated!”

The federal statute Trump referenced provides legal protections that safeguard online companies from libel suits and other litigation.

Dan Scavino, one of Trump’s longest-serving aides and the White House’s deputy chief of staff for communications, also lashed out at Twitter in coarse terms online.

“Twitter is targeting the President of the United States 24/7, while turning their heads to protest organizers who are planning, plotting, and communicating their next moves daily on this very platform,” he tweeted. “Twitter is full of shit – more and more people are beginning to get it.”

After the White House Twitter feed, which is operated by Scavino, reposted the original Trump tweet that was concealed from users, Twitter slapped a warning label on that account’s message, as well.

Twitter told POLITICO in a statement that Friday was not the first time it had used a “public interest notice,” and emphasized that Trump’s tweet “will remain on the service” and not be removed.

The White House was quick to retort via its official account that the president “did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it.” It went on to allege that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey “and Twitter’s biased, bad-faith ‘fact-checkers’ have made it clear: Twitter is a publisher, not a platform.”

Cristiano Lima and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories

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