President Trump on Friday threatened to send the National Guard to Minneapolis unless the city’s Democratic mayor brought the violent protests touched off by the death of a black man at the hands of four white police officers under control, injecting himself into a growing crisis over police abuse and race that will be another test of his ability to lead an anxious nation.
By the time the president had issued his threat in a string of tweets, Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota had already activated and deployed the National Guard in response to a request from local leaders.
“I can’t stand back & watch this happen to a great American City, Minneapolis,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter. “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.”
Mr. Trump began tweeting about the unrest in Minneapolis around 1 a.m., as cable news showed the police station where the four city police officers involved in the death of George Floyd were assigned engulfed in a fire set by protesters a short time earlier.
Mr. Floyd died on Monday after one of the white police officers knelt on his neck while he was handcuffed and lying face down on the ground, calling out “I can’t breathe.” Video of the episode ricocheted across social media and the officer, along with three others, were fired the next day.
No charges have been filed in connection with his death.
“These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” the president wrote in another tweet, which was flagged by 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. Thank you!”
In saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” Mr. Trump echoed a phrase coined by a Miami police chief in the 1960s about crackdowns on black neighborhoods during times of unrest.
Twitter officials responded to the threat by appending the tweets with a note saying the posts were “glorifying violence.” That provoked another tweet from the president accusing Twitter of having targeted “Republicans, Conservatives & the President of the United States” and prompting his aides to repost his original tweets on the official White House Twitter account. It was also flagged by Twitter.
When the video of Mr. Floyd lying on the ground with the police officer’s knee on his neck first circulated, Mr. Trump called it “shocking,” and at the White House on Thursday, the press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said the president was “very upset” seeing it.
But the protests in Minneapolis have recalled some of the worst scenes of unrest in response to police brutality in the treatment of black men over the last 30 years, and the president’s tone markedly changed.
The phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” was used by Walter Headley, the Miami police chief in 1967. At the time, Mr. Headley warned that young black men who he called “hoodlums” had “taken advantage of the civil rights campaign,” and added, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”
Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign made a broad appeal to white grievances. Even as he has made efforts to appeal to black voters, he has demonized Hispanic immigrants and has shared Twitter posts from extremists whose feeds routinely traffic in racism.
When racial conflict has arisen during his presidency, Mr. Trump has often avoided taking a clear position. When neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 and a counterprotester was killed, Mr. Trump condemned the death but told reporters there were “very fine people” on “both sides” of the matter, prompting outrage.