President Donald Trump makes a speech while presenting the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the U.S. Military Academy football team in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 1, 2018.REUTERS/Leah Millis

'Ignore the president's unlawful order': Democrats and military veterans are up in arms after Trump suggests National Guard troops may shoot looters


President Donald Trump's controversial statement suggesting looters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will be shot by National Guard troops drew fire from critics, particularly from congressional leaders with previous battlefield experience.

Riots raged within Minneapolis on Thursday night as protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the death George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after being violently detained by a Minneapolis police officer.

On Monday, Floyd was pinned down on his neck by a Minneapolis police officer's knee. Video captured by bystanders during the incident showed Floyd's arrest, which has sparked outrage throughout the country. In Minneapolis, several buildings were broken into, looted, and set ablaze — including a police station.

By Thursday evening, Trump tweeted his thoughts on the ongoing riots.

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen," Trump said on Twitter. "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."

Trump later clarified his tweets by adding that it was merely an "expression" that was "spoken as a fact, not as a statement."

"It's very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media," Trump tweeted.

Trump's statement that looting could prompt a shooting has attracted scrutiny —the same line has been used by former Miami police chief Walter Headley and other segregationists during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Beyond the tweet's controversial historical context; however, Democrats with military experience blasted the notion that National Guardsmembers would be firing live rounds at looters in the US.
National Guardsmen stand guard outside the ABC Market at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Vermont Street in Los Angeles during the LA riots.Nick Ut (Associated Press)

As the commander-in-chief, Trump has the ability to federalize members of a state's National Guard for domestic law enforcement purposes.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush federalized the California National Guard and deployed thousands of US Army soldiers and Marines to quell the Los Angeles riots.

As of Friday, roughly 500 Minnesota National Guard troops were activated to St. Paul, Minneapolis, and the surrounding communities, with a "key objective to ensure fire departments are able to respond to calls," state authorities said in a statement.

The standing rules for the use of force, a distinct set of rules different from the broader standing rules for engagement, is typically applied during civil operations within the US. While it allows service members to use deadly force for self-defense, it consists of additional bureaucratic barriers before a unit commander is allowed to authorize specific weapons or tactics during a civil mission.

The notion that US troops could be shooting US citizens amid the riots rankled congressional leaders, including Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Iraq War combat veteran and retired US Army helicopter pilot.

"We also cannot ignore the insidious and outright un-American responses from Donald Trump," Duckworth said in a statement. "He encouraged police officers to bash suspects heads on squad cars when making an arrest, he cheered largely white protesters who stormed a state capitol with semi-automatic rifles while threatening violence against elected representatives and now he's literally suggesting shooting those protesting the senseless death of a black man."

"Whether it's calling Mexicans rapists, racializing this pandemic as the 'Chinese virus' or his reaction to the injustice of excessive police force now, his racism is obvious," she added.

Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer who deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, noted that "the vast majority" of protesters were demonstrating peacefully.

"As a Marine veteran who was trained to disobey unlawful orders ... I am also calling on the men and women of the Minnesota National Guard to ignore the president's unlawful order to shoot civilians," Moulton added. "And rely instead on your training and your oath to defend our Constitution, which upholds our American values including freedom of assembly and freedom of speech."

Other Democratic leaders on Friday lambasted Trump's response to the situation and described it as "pathetic."

"It perfectly encapsulates his inability to lead when our nation needs it most," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement, in reference to Trump's brief remarks at the Rose Garden. "The only question is whether President Trump is afraid to lead or just doesn't know how."

Trump would later claim on Friday that he was not aware of the statement's racially-charged history.

"Well, I've heard that phrase for a long time," Trump said to reporters on Friday evening. "I've heard it for a long time as most people have. And frankly, it means when there's looting, people get shot — and they die."

"And that's the way that was meant, and that's the way that I think it was supposed to be meant," Trump added. "But I don't know where it came from, I don't know where it originated. I wouldn't know a thing like that."