The president also appeared to call for a counter protest, tweeting: “Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???”
The Secret Service partially sealed off the White House grounds Friday amid nationwide protests following the death of an African-American man in Minneapolis police custody. Trump had previously called the Minneapolis protesters “thugs” and threatened to unleash gunfire on them.
Washington’s protest is among several that have erupted across the country, from Los Angeles to New York, even as some cities remain locked down amid the coronavirus pandemic. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the partial lifting of lockdown measures Wednesday, though gatherings of more than 10 remain prohibited.
Developing News & Reaction on Minnesota Protests
Bowser tweeted on Saturday morning: “My police department will always protect DC and all who are in it whether I agree with them (such as those exercising their First Amendment Right) or those I don’t (namely, @realDonaldTrump)…”
The National Guard was on standby in Washington and has been activated in Atlanta and Minneapolis, with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz early Saturday moving to activate another 1,000 Guard soldiers, adding he was considering federal help. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Saturday ordered the deployment of up to 500 members of the Guard to Atlanta.
Hundreds of protesters set out from U St. toward downtown Washington, D.C., on Friday afternoon. Videos and news reports showed protesters chanting their outrage at the death of George Floyd, who was killed after a Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd’s neck with his knee. Protesters had reached Lafayette Park, which is to the north of the White House grounds, by Friday evening.
Protesters and Secret Service officers scuffled outside the White House fence. Video circulating on social media and photos on wire services showed a protester being detained by Secret Service officers. Protesters eventually moved from the White House toward the Capitol.
By around 11:30 p.m., a group of protesters had returned to the White House and pushed back against barricades set up by police and Secret Service officers. Protesters were barred from approaching the White House at Lafayette Park. The two sides stood in a tense stand off, in contrast to the violent altercations with police that have occurred in other cities.
In a statement released Saturday, the USSS said its officers had made 6 arrests in and around Lafayette Park and along Pennsylvania Ave. near the White House, adding that some demonstrators hurled bricks, bottles and fireworks and attempted to knock over security barriers but none breached the White House perimeter.
The statement noted that Metropolitan Police officers were on scene alongside the U.S. Park Police, contradicting a Trump tweet criticizing Bowser for a lack of local police involvement.
Reporters who were at the White House said they were not able to leave the complex early Friday evening, with the doors to the briefing room locked. Secret Service officials told reporters the situation outside was not contained enough to open the doors. A White House official told POLITICO those in the complex could leave via the south entrance.
Reporters were allowed to leave the building around 8:30 p.m.
A Secret Service spokesperson said in a statement: “Secret Service personnel are currently assisting other law enforcement agencies during a demonstration in Lafayette Park. In the interest of public safety we encourage all to remain peaceful.”
Reporters had gathered at the White House on Friday afternoon for a briefing by Trump announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization. The president declined to address the upheaval in Minnesota and did not take questions.
Trump later remarked on the nationwide unrest during a White House event, saying that it was important to “protect the rights for peaceful protesters.”
“We can’t allow a situation like what happened in Minneapolis to descend further into lawless anarchy and chaos,” he said. “I understand the hurt. I understand the pain. People have really been through a lot.”
“The family of George is entitled to justice, and the people of Minnesota are entitled to live in safety,” Trump added.
Protests in Minneapolis have gone on for five days, leading to a curfew being imposed Friday night. Demonstrators previously set fire to the 3rd Precinct Minneapolis police station. Hundreds of protesters defied the curfew and continued marching in Minneapolis on Friday night.
Trump tweeted his disdain for the Minneapolis protesters early Friday, referring to them as “THUGS” and threatening them with gunfire. Twitter flagged his remarks as “glorifying violence” — one of the first warning labels the social media giant has issued to the president’s often incendiary tweets. Facebook has said the post had not breached its guidelines.
The president later attempted to clarify his remarks.
Anita Kumar and Daniel Lippman contributed to this report.