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Trump threatens Minneapolis protesters with violence in tweets

President Trump pictured during a briefing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.
President Trump pictured during a briefing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.Doug Mills/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to take action to bring the city of Minneapolis “under control,” calling violent protesters outraged by the death of a black man in police custody “thugs” and saying that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Trump tweeted after protesters torched a Minneapolis police station and destroyed other property, capping three days of violence over the death of George Floyd, who was captured on video pleading for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck.

Trump said he spoke to the state's Democratic governor, Tim Walz, and “told him that the Military is with him all the way."

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“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shootng starts,” he wrote.

Trump didn't clarify what he meant — Walz has already activated the National Guard — but the tweet drew another warning from Twitter, which said he had violated rules about "glorifying violence.”

Slapping back, the White House reposted Trump's “shooting starts” message on its official Twitter account Friday morning. And White House social media director Dan Scavino turned the tweets into an image that he tweeted out as well.

The move came a day after Trump signed an executive order challenging the site’s liability protections.

Trump, who has often remained silent in the aftermath of police-involved killings and has a long history of defending police, has been uncharacteristically vocal this time, saying earlier Thursday that he felt "very, very badly" about Floyd's death and calling video capturing his struggle "a very shocking sight.”

But his language grew more aggressive as violence boiled over in Minneapolis on Thursday night. “These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” he wrote shortly before 1 a.m.

Former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Friday condemned Trump’s tweet, saying Trump was “calling for violence against American citizens during a moment of pain for so many.”

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“I’m furious, and you should be too,” he added.

Kentucky’s Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, speaking on CNN Friday morning, called on Trump to retract the statement flagged by Twitter.

“During these times, we can condemn violence while also trying to listen, to understand, to know that there is deep frustration, rightfully so, in our country -- that there has not been enough action on creating equality, opportunity, and in health care, and in a time of this COVID-19 epidemic, it’s laid bare all of that," he said.

He added that elected officials “have a responsibility not just to maintain the peace, which is what we ought to be doing, but to also listen, to show empathy, and to try to find a way to move in the right direction, not the wrong one.”

Although Twitter added the warning to Trump's tweet, the company did not remove it, saying it had determined the message might be in the public interest — something it does only for tweets by elected and government officials. Twitter explained that it took action “in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts" but "kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance.”

Earlier this week, Twitter fact checked two of Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots, drawing his anger.

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“It seems like they’re carrying out a vendetta against the president,” Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, the No. 2 GOP House leader, said on Fox News Friday.

Once more likely to hew to the “blue lives matter” mantra, Trump, his allies and Republicans in elected office across the nation have been questioning the conduct of the officer who pinned Floyd down and calling for justice. But some activists doubt that Trump has suddenly evolved on the issue of police brutality and instead see election year political calculations.

“This is the first race-tinged case that I’ve ever heard him address” as president, said the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and Trump critic who has known the president for decades. “I think the difference is a November election."

Trump has been silent on a number of high-profile police-involved killings, including that of Stephon Clark, a black man shot by Sacramento, California, police in 2018. He never addressed the 2014 death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by police trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Video of the encounter was viewed millions of times online, and Garner’s dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. Trump has, however, invoked those words on several occasions to mock political rivals, even bringing his hands to his neck for dramatic effect.

And he has even appeared to advocate for the rougher treatment of people in police custody, speaking dismissively of the police practice of shielding the heads of handcuffed suspects as they are being placed in patrol cars.

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But Trump and his allies have taken a different approach in response to Floyd, who can be heard and seen on tape pleading that he couldn't breathe before he slowly stops talking and moving.

Trump “was very upset when he saw that video," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday. “He wants justice to be served.”

Even conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who once called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” said Floyd’s death was totally “unjustified” and he was “so mad.”

The outpouring comes as the Trump campaign has sought to chip into the longstanding advantage Democrats have with black voters.