Donald Trump has told state governors they must “dominate” and “put people in jail for 10 years” amid violent protests across the US, according to media reports.
Speaking in a video teleconference that also included law enforcement and national security officials, the president demanded tougher crackdowns following another night of civil unrest in American cities following the death of George Floyd.
According to audio obtained by CBS News, he told them they should call in the National Guard to quell the violence.
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“You have to dominate, if you don’t dominate you’re wasting your time,” he said.
“They’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.
“Most of you are weak. You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.
“We’re doing it in Washington, DC. We’re going to do something that people haven’t seen before.”
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Governors do not have the power to arrest or jail US citizens unilaterally.
It comes after Mr Trump was rushed to a White House bunker and dozens of Secret Service personnel were hurt during protests following the death of Mr Floyd, some of which turned violent.
Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
Anger has intensified among many in the country who see the death as emblematic of historic and continuing injustice faced by black people in the US.
Demonstrations have turned violent in several cities, bringing looting and mayhem. Fires were started in the historic Lafayette Park, near the White House.
Mr Trump credited the National Guard for helping calm the situation on Sunday night in Minneapolis, although some have accused the army reservist force of using excessive force likely to escalate tensions.
The police chief of Louisville, Kentucky, said police officers and National Guard soldiers enforcing a curfew in the city killed a man on Monday.
He claimed the officers and soldiers returned fire after someone in a large group fired at them first.
Attorney General Bill Barr, who was also on the call, told governors that a joint terrorist task force would be used to track agitators and urged local officials to “dominate” the streets and control rather than react to crowds. He urged them to “go after troublemakers”.
The president also spoke on Monday of trying to make flag-burning a criminal offence.
The Supreme Court has conservative new members since it last ruled on that issue, and Mr Trump said that “I think it’s time to review that again”.
He has continued to use his tactic of inflammatory tweets and partisan attacks during the time of national crisis.
As cities burned amid chaos across the US, White House advisers reportedly gave up on the prospect of him delivering an Oval Office address in an attempt to ease tensions, with the president apparently disinterested in giving a message of unity.