As rioters in Minneapolis lit the police precinct on fire after a protest over the death of George Floyd on Thursday night, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would bring in the National Guard to get the city under control. He then referred to the rioters as “thugs,” the same way former President Barack Obama did in 2015 after the riots in Baltimore. Twitter blocked his tweet with a warning that it “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence.”
“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the City under control, or I will send in the National Guard & get the job done right,” the president tweeted. He then added another message, which Twitter decided to pseudo-censor.
“This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” the warning read.
Twitter did not prevent users from seeing the tweet, but it did issue the equivalent of a “spoiler warning.” So what did this supposedly violent tweet say?
“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,” he tweeted. “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!”
[VIDEO] Minneapolis Police Precinct on Fire, Police Abandon Area, as Riots Over Death of George Floyd Escalate
So Trump supposedly violated Twitter’s rules and engaged in “glorifying violence” by warning rioters that if they break into buildings, steal property, and burn down those buildings, law enforcement will stop them, by shooting them if necessary? Doesn’t the government exist to protect private property and prevent people from destroying it in this fashion?
Yet people expressed outrage, and Twitter appears to have listened to the critics.
Did Trump endorse “police brutality?”
CNN White House Reporter Kevin Liptak argued that the “apparent origin of the ‘looting starts, shooting starts’ is Miami police chief in 1967, who said ‘we don’t mind being accused of police brutality.’ (via NYT archive)”
Apparent origin of the "looting starts, shooting starts" is Miami police chief in 1967, who said "we don't mind being accused of police brutality." (via NYT archive) pic.twitter.com/umnFpJTgNV
— Kevin Liptak (@Kevinliptakcnn) May 29, 2020
Yet, as the Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra noted, the president made “made absolutely 0 reference to this event from 1967 in his tweet and he has already stated multiple times that he is pissed the George Floyd was killed.” In that very tweet, Trump said the rioters were “dishonoring the memory of George Floyd,” by sullying the rightful protest over Floyd’s death with such lawlessness.
Trump directed the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate Floyd’s death, saying his “heart goes out to George’s family and friends,” and promising that “Justice will be served!”
….I have asked for this investigation to be expedited and greatly appreciate all of the work done by local law enforcement. My heart goes out to George’s family and friends. Justice will be served!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 27, 2020
Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, accused the president of arguing that the army should “murder Americans on American soil.”
“THE THUGS AT THE WHITE HOUSE ARE DISHONORING THE MEMORY OF AMERICAN SOLDIERS WHO DIED FOR FREEDOM BY TWEETING THAT THE ARMY SHOULD MURDER AMERICANS ON AMERICAN SOIL,” he tweeted.
THE THUGS AT THE WHITE HOUSE ARE DISHONORING THE MEMORY OF AMERICAN SOLDIERS WHO DIED FOR FREEDOM BY TWEETING THAT THE ARMY SHOULD MURDER AMERICANS ON AMERICAN SOIL. https://t.co/bfpmgefUOn
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) May 29, 2020
Was Trump’s tweet racist?
Others suggested Trump’s use of the term “thugs” was racist.
Qasim Rashid, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Virginia, contrasted the president’s support for anti-lockdown protesters in Michigan with his condemnation of Minneapolis rioters, as if the rioters who looted and burned down buildings were just as peaceful as the lockdown protesters who — at worst — yelled at a police officer.
Is This Twitter Exec With a Long History of Anti-Trump Tirades the Force Behind the Trump ‘Fact-Check’?
“May 1: Armed militias threaten Governor & Police over a few month stay at home order •’Very good people. Make them a deal!’ May 29: People upset about murder of unarmed Black man and centuries of systemic injustice •’THUGS! When the looting starts the shooting starts,'” Rashid tweeted.
May 1: Armed militias threaten Governor & Police over a few month stay at home order
•”Very good people. Make them a deal!”
May 29: People upset about murder of unarmed Black man and centuries of systemic injustice
•”THUGS! When the looting starts the shooting starts.”
— Qasim Rashid for Congress (@QasimRashid) May 29, 2020
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) also compared the two Trump tweets, saying, “This is what a racist president looks like.”
This is what a racist president looks like. pic.twitter.com/RCsU5syvPT
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) May 29, 2020
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich compared Trump to the segregationist George Wallace in 1968.
“‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ –George Wallace, 1968 ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts.’ –Donald Trump, 2020,” Reich tweeted.
"When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
–George Wallace, 1968
"When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
–Donald Trump, 2020
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) May 29, 2020
There is nothing inherently racist in suggesting that government should protect private property and stop looters and rioters, however. In fact, it is likely Trump had no idea he was using the same phrase as George Wallace — it seems far more likely the president was trying to express his belief that theft and rioting should be met with force from law enforcement.
Echoes of Obama…
Trump is also not alone in calling destructive looters and rioters “thugs.” In April 2015, as rioters were destroying Baltimore following protests over the death of Freddie Gray, former President Barack Obama condemned the “criminals and thugs who tore up” Baltimore.
“There’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive,” Obama said at a press conference from the White House. “When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing. When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities. That robs jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”
Obama stood by his use of the term “thug” later that week, after people called the term racist. “Whether it’s arson or, you know, the looting of a liquor store … those were thuggish acts,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at the time.
Twitter’s pseudo-censorship against Trump started earlier this week, when the platform issued an extremely biased “fact-check” citing leftist opinion in support of vote-by-mail policies in response to Trump’s tweets raising concerns about those policies in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) faces a lawsuit from the California Republican Party for allegedly weaponizing his authority during the coronavirus crisis to unilaterally change election law and make elections more vulnerable to the kind of fraud that helps Democrats.
While Twitter’s move to substitute left-wing opinion for Trump’s opinion on voting was egregious, its decision to pseudo-censor the president in his support for law and order in this case may be even worse. Trump signed an executive order to fight social media censorship on Thursday.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.