By Jeff Mason, Elizabeth Culliford
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Friday to stop looters in Minneapolis with deadly military force, after that city weathered a third night of arson and rioting over the police killing of an unarmed black man.
Some congressional Democrats denounced as racist Trump’s Twitter threat, which called the looters “THUGS” and warned “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter for the first time hid the Trump tweet behind a warning banner that accused the president of “glorifying violence.”
That came after Trump signed an executive order on Thursday threatening new regulations on social media firms. He relies heavily on Twitter to bring his message directly to his 80 million followers on the site, but also has repeatedly accused it and other social media sites of censuring conservatives.
Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, has a history of inflaming racial tensions. He blamed “both sides” for violence between white supremacists and left-wing counter protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and has called illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border rapists.
His early Friday tweet suggested that security forces would open fire on looters to curtail unrest over the death of George Floyd, a black man seen on video gasping for breath while a white police officer knelt on his neck.
Protests over his death and other killings like it have spread to cities including Los Angeles and Denver, with a protest expected in New York on Friday.
Trump said in his tweet: “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 phrase about shooting dates back to U.S. police crackdowns on civil rights in the 1960s.
[Editor’s note: The phrase was used by Miami’s police chief Walter Headley, in addressing his department’s “crackdown on … slum hoodlums” in 1967. Of his police force, Headley said, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality. They haven’t seen anything, yet… When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”]
Democrats accused Trump of making the situation worse.
“He is calling for violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many. I’m furious, and you should be too,” Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden said in a tweet.
U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib, one of the most liberal voices in Congress, took a harsher tone: “The Impeached President is a violent white supremacist.”
Trump issued his tweet amid days of turmoil in Minneapolis, which was engulfed in a third night of arson, looting and vandalism as protesters vented their rage over Floyd’s death.
Four police officers involved in Floyd’s death have been fired and the FBI is investigating. Trump has condemned the killing and promised justice.
Trump’s re-election campaign has identified Minnesota as a state he could win in 2020 after narrowly losing it in 2016.
TWITTER FEUD, MORE UNREST
Twitter’s decision to attach a warning to Trump’s tweet escalates a feud between Trump and tech companies.
Trump threatened new regulation on internet companies and called on Congress to revoke a law, known as Section 230, that protects online platforms from lawsuits over content.
A Twitter spokeswoman said CEO Jack Dorsey had been informed of the decision to hide Trump’s tweet before the label was applied. The decision was based on a policy introduced in June, 2019, which the company said it applied to a Brazilian cabinet member’s tweet in April.
Floyd’s death was one of several recent killings of black people in the United States that has provoked outrage. The Minneapolis night sky was lit up with flame from a police precinct that had been torched overnight.
Riot police in gas masks arrested a CNN crew on live TV, leading them away in handcuffs from streets that resembled a war zone. More than an hour later, the crew was released.
Protests took place in other U.S. cities, including Louisville, Kentucky, where police said seven people were shot. Protesters there vented rage over the police killing of Breonna Taylor, a black woman shot in her apartment in March.
Twitter said it acted over the Trump tweet “in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts”. Facebook did not remove Trump’s same post from its site.
Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England, additional reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore, Shubham Kalia and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Josephine Mason and David Morgan; Writing by Jeff Mason and Peter Graff; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell.