Mr. Trump often sounded as much like an angry bystander as the nation’s president, repeatedly recalling his reaction to televised footage of the unrest.
“They just walked right down the street, knocking them out with tear gas, tear gas,” he said of the National Guard’s handling of the riots in Minneapolis. “These guys, they were running.”
And without evidence, Mr. Trump asserted that after the crackdown in the Twin Cities the protesters had left to create mayhem in other localities.
”They’re all looking for weak spots” he said of the protesters. “Now what they’re going to do is search out perhaps smaller cities.”
The governors, the president said, must apprehend them.
”And you can’t do the deal where they get one week in jail,” he said. “These are terrorists. These are terrorists. And they’re looking to do bad things to our country.”
Perhaps recognizing the risks he was taking with his language, Mr. Trump acknowledged the presence of his attorney general, William P. Barr.
“I’m not asking my attorney general, and perhaps you’ll stop me from saying that, but you’re allowed to fight back,” he said.
Mr. Trump has long used language common to authoritarians than to democratically elected leaders to speak about protesters. In 1990, Mr. Trump told Playboy magazine that Beijing showed “the power of strength” when it used deadly military force to quell the student-led demonstrations at Tiananmen Square the year before.
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it,” Mr. Trump said. “Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”
In 2016, Mr. Trump said the comments were not an endorsement, before calling the students “rioters” and reiterating that a “strong, powerful government” stopped the protests.
And even as president, he has openly nudged law enforcement officers to treat those apprehended with harsh tactics.
“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice,’” Mr. Trump said to applause from Long Island police officers in a 2017 speech.
Mihir Zaveri contributed reporting from New York.
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