“These protesters, many should be arrested because these are professional agitators, these are professional anarchists,” Trump said during a White House press conference. “These are people that hate our country. We are telling them right now that we are coming in very soon.
“The National Guard. A lot of very tough people. These are not people that just have to guard the courthouse and save it. These are people who are allowed to go forward and do what they have to do.”
At the peak, more than 40,000 Guardsmen were activated across the country to help deal with protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man prosecutors say was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer while in police custody on May 25. Four officers have been charged with crimes related to the killing.
The use of Guard troops to help with violence on American soil is not unusual, but is typically done under the direction or with permission from state and local officials. In the case of Portland — where protests have taken place every night since May — the governor and mayor have objected to the intervention of federal law enforcement to address the issue.
“They don’t know what they are doing,” Trump said of the local leaders.
The Oregon Military Department told Military Times that the Oregon National Guard “has not been requested or notified of any request to respond to the situation in Portland at this time,” according to Maj. Leslie Reed, the department’s deputy director of public affairs.
The National Guard Bureau deferred questions to the White House and Pentagon. Pentagon officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Thursday, Trump praised the controversial presence of Department of Homeland Security personnel in Portland, saying that “the place was a mess” and that their deployment prevented “hundreds of millions of dollars” in damage to the federal courthouse there.
Trump said those officers “are working today, and probably tomorrow, to clean out this beehive of terrorists” in Portland.
“If they do it, I will be very happy,” he said. “Then slowly, we can start to leave the city.
“If they don’t do it, we will be sending in the National Guard.”
The president’s announcement comes just two days after a congressional hearing where a District of Columbia Army National Guard major who was working on protest control during June 1 demonstrations outside of the White House testified that federal agents were overly aggressive in clearing out peaceful protesters.
Maj. Adam DeMarco said that Guardsmen on duty that day were left confused and disheartened by the actions, with some members questioning whether they had violated the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.
Trump has voiced no such concerns, saying the protests were inspired by non-violent ideals but have since become little more than an excuse for destruction and mayhem.
Democratic lawmakers in recent weeks have sought to curtail presidential powers related to deploying military personnel on U.S. soil, but thus far have not been able to overcome Republican objections to finalize any such legislative language.
Military Times managing editor Howard Altman contributed to this report.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.