By Marc Thiessen
Why is it that so many in Washington are more outraged with President Trump’s tough talk on the riots plaguing our cities than they are with the riots themselves?
Consider the response to Trump’s announcement that he may invoke the Insurrection Act and mobilize the U.S. military to quell the riots. The Insurrection Act has been used by almost a dozen American presidents to put down violent unrest. Ulysses S. Grant used it to suppress the Ku Klux Klan. Dwight D. Eisenhower used it to protect the “Little Rock Nine” — African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School. John F. Kennedy used it to enforce the desegregation of the University of Mississippi and the Alabama public schools. George H.W. Bush invoked it to stop looting in St. Croix following Hurricane Hugo and to subdue the Los Angeles riots following the police beating of Rodney King.
Trump should use the act only if local and state law enforcement agencies, backed by their National Guard units, fail to quell the rioting. But to suggest that it would be unprecedented or inappropriate for him to do so is simply historical ignorance.
Or take the outrage over Trump’s announcement that he may declare antifa — the Marxist anarchist movement behind much of the arson and vandalism — domestic terrorists. They are domestic terrorists. Federal law defines “domestic terrorism” as “activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State [and] appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population [or] to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” That is a textbook description of antifa. Antifa is an organized, violent and dangerous terrorist movement that, according to the New York Police Department, set up supply routes to move rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails to protest areas, and uses them to burn down businesses and attack police officers.
That is why, long before today’s riots, the U.S. government had already classified antifa members as domestic terrorists. In September 2017, Politico reported that “the Department of Homeland Security formally classified their activities as ‘domestic terrorist violence,’” and that a number of Antifa leaders “have been deemed dangerous enough to be placed on U.S. terrorism watch lists.” If we saw neo-Nazis doing what Antifa is doing today, no one would hesitate to declare them domestic terrorists. But because they are neo-Marxists and Trump is doing it, it’s a scandal.
Or take the outrage over Trump’s visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church, and the decision to remove protesters from Lafayette Square. According to U.S. Park Service police, “intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street” — a hallmark of antifa. Moreover, people threw “projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” at police, while some even “attempted to grab officers’ weapons.”
Lost in the outrage is the reason Trump went to St. John’s in the first place — because the night before, someone among the “peaceful” protesters set the church on fire. Yet his posing with a Bible is the sacrilege? He’s the president of the United States. If he wants to visit “the Church of the Presidents” after its attempted burning, he has every right to do so.
The Secret Service also has the right to move protesters so the president can move safely. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld agents’ right to do so in 2014, and President Barack Obama signed a law strengthening their authority to disperse protesters. Police and National Guard troops arrested more than 400 people who sat at intersections trying to block President Bill Clinton from attending a World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. The Secret Service moved peaceful demonstrators protesting Joe Biden’s 2012 appearance at Wright State University. But if they do the same for Trump, it’s a violation of the First Amendment?
Do I wish Trump’s tough rhetoric were leavened with more compassion? Of course. I’d like to hear more of what he said at Cape Canaveral, when he declared, “I understand the pain that people are feeling. We support the right of peaceful protesters, and we hear their pleas. … I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace.” The president should repeat these words with every statement he delivers on today’s unrest. Because America needs to hear it — and because if he doesn’t, then his critics will pretend he never said it. But the president is also right when he says the violence needs to stop. Because we can’t heal the country when the country is on fire.
Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
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