“My first duty as president is to protect the American people, and today I am taking action to fulfill that sacred obligation,” he said.
A few months later, Trump’s only confirmation that his administration had put down a suspected domestic terrorist attack to kidnap the Democratic governor of Michigan was why he had not been thanked.
The way Trump promotes his administration’s efforts to enforce “law and order” follows a clear pattern of political calculation; In cases where the Justice Department finds cases to back up its claims of fraudulent voting, rampant urban crime, or pervasive government corruption, Trump stands ready to get involved. He is likely to reaffirm the message of the suppression of violence on Saturday when he delivers “law and order”
But when the government worked to tackle extremist anti-government groups – which even its own FBI says pose the most pressing threat to the nation – Trump ignored the effort at best and used it at worst to dispel resentment kindle the supporters of the groups.
The situation could only get more difficult as the elections approach and some extremist groups seek revenge against continued lockdown orders. Trump himself has resisted continued restrictions and specifically refused to call for silence after the elections, even when making false claims about a rigged vote.
Former officials and others familiar with the situation say Trump has shown little interest in ensuring that efforts to combat domestic terrorism are a priority for his administration, despite warnings from law enforcement officials, members of Congress and groups who criticize extremism about the increasing threat posed by extremists and remote tracking -right groups. Some have alleged White House officials tried to suppress the use of the term “domestic terrorism” throughout the Trump administration.
Others said it was evident that Trump recognized his own supporters were among those labeled “domestic terrorists” and believed that doing so would damage his reputation with his grassroots to warn of their danger.
Instead, Trump has publicly downplayed the threat posed by armed militia groups and tried to draw attention to other areas.
After the FBI investigated whether local Pennsylvania officials had improperly discarded ballot papers, Trump was personally briefed on the matter by Attorney General Bill Barr and disclosed details of it during a Fox interview before it was released.
He has also shown enthusiastic and at times angry interest in the work of the department investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, and publicly encouraged Barr to “move” this week to file criminal charges as the presidential elections approach.
But he has not made broad or vocal appeals to fight domestic terrorism. In the hours of televised telephone interviews he conducted after the Michigan conspiracy was exposed, Trump barely mentioned it temporarily – and only to lament the fact that he received no credit.
“The president always wants to choose a side, and he wants to choose the side that supports him,” said Miles Taylor, a former Homeland Security officer in Trump’s administration who is now speaking out against the president and contributing to CNN. “But Donald Trump, in my opinion, created the favorable conditions under which these domestic terrorist groups could rise.”
“The White House wanted to cover its eyes and ears when it heard of domestic terrorism because they didn’t want to pay any attention to right-wing extremists, whom they saw as a potential base for support,” Taylor said. “As a result, the president’s rhetoric served as a loaded weapon for those groups who have since understood his words as a kind of permission to do what they do.”
“Michigan Governor Whitmer did a terrible job. She closed her state to everyone except her husband’s boating activities,” Trump tweeted. “The federal government has done tremendous help to the great people of Michigan. My Department of Justice and law enforcement today announced that they have foiled a dangerous plot against the Michigan governor. Instead of thanking me, they call me a white supremacist – during Biden and Democrats refuse to condemn antifa, anarchists, looters, and mobs who burn down Democratic-run cities. “
“Just last week the President of the United States stood before the American people refusing to condemn white supremacists and hate groups like these two militia groups in Michigan,” said Whitmer, claiming those who were planning to kidnap her had the words of the Presidents should not be used as a reprimand, but as a collective call – a call to action. “
Trump, meanwhile, insisted he was not advocating anything the group did, despite accusing Whitmer of angering their state’s citizens by maintaining coronavirus lockdowns.
“I do not tolerate extreme violence,” he wrote. “To defend ALL Americans, including those who oppose and attack me, I will always do as your President! Governor Whitmer – open your state, open your schools and open your churches!”
He wrote the message while recovering from coronavirus at the White House. It reiterated Trump’s call for Whitmer to lift restrictions on businesses and gatherings in the summer to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
Right-wing groups have protested Whitmer’s pandemic response since the crisis began, when thousands of people – some of them armed – gathered in the state capital in Lansing to demand that they overturn executive orders that are closing much of the state.
Trump sided with these protesters, many of whom arrived in the capital with Trump flags. He tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” and said those who advocate looser rules are “very good people, but they are angry”.
Two months later, Trump took the opposite view from protesters calling for justice after police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minnesota. Trump ordered an oversized federal response to the demonstrations, which spread to cities across the country.
While protests have continued in some cities, Trump has sided with groups that have tried to suppress the violence themselves. He defended a caravan of his supporters heading into Portland, Oregon, and fired paintball cannons at protesters, calling them “peaceful protesters” and claiming they used paintballs as a “defense mechanism”.
He has also defended Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old accused of fatally shooting two people in protests against the police shooting of another unarmed black, Jacob Blake.
Social media accounts believed to be owned by Rittenhouse feature a young white man with an affinity for guns who supports Blue Lives Matter and Trump. When asked if he was okay with armed guards like Rittenhouse on the street, Trump said he would “like to see law enforcement take care of everything,” but did not condemn the vigilance.
The issue seemed to reach a climax during the first presidential debate, when Trump refused to explicitly condemn the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose ideology was described by the anti-defamation as “misogynist, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigrant” League.
Instead, Trump urged the Proud Boys to “step back and stand by,” a phrase the group later co-opted in memes and social media posts.
In online statements, Proud Boys have claimed that they only used violence for self-defense. But members are often seen carrying firearms, bats, and protective gear, and some have been convicted of crimes against anti-fascist protesters. Her supporters were recently seen at protests in the United States, including in Portland.
Trump later insisted that he had never heard of the Proud Boys. After days of backlash, he finally said he condemned her in an interview on Fox. But that didn’t seem to dampen the group’s support for him; Its founder attended a vigil for the president outside the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend.