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Trump spends weekend in bunker, watching SpaceX, tweeting

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  • Over the weekend furious protests against police brutality that have swept America came to the White House. 
  • The president was forced to hide in a secret bunker, as protesters and heavily armed police and Secret Service agents came face-to-face near the White House.
  • But instead of stepping forward to meet the crisis and calm tensions, Trump has tweeted out messages that have added fuel to a volatile situation. 
  • The president’s only public appearance over the weekend was to watch the SpaceX rocket launch in Florida. 
  • On Sunday, according to reports, top advisers scrapped plans for Trump to address the nation, concluding that he had nothing new to say and no policies to announce. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Some presidents deal with a crisis head-on. 

At the height of the Vietnam War in 1970, President Richard Nixon famously went out to meet hippies and left-wing radicals staging a protest at the Lincoln Memorial. In defiance of his Secret Service agents, who were deeply concerned about the president’s safety, Nixon talked to the anti-war protesters for several hours, until the sun rose.  

Today, the streets of America’s cities are once again filled with protesters. For six straight days, there have been both peaceful and violent demonstrations against police brutality, following the death of George Floyd, who was killed after a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for eight minutes. 

But the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, President Donald Trump, is taking a very different approach to the crisis than Nixon.

The protests are the angriest and most widespread that America has seen since the 1960s.

And over the weekend they came to Donald Trump’s doorstep. Hundreds of furious demonstrators on Friday gathering outside the White House itself, where police and security staff struggled to contain them. 

It’s impossible to recall scenes like them.

The venom of the demonstration prompted the Secret Service to move the president to the secure bunker under the White House — the same bunker White House staff were taken during the 9/11 attacks. 

The protests have continued all weekend, and according to reports the chants and shouts of protesters can be heard from inside the White House. Black smoke from burning vehicles and dumpsters has clouded the sky. 

The fires can be seen from the White House. On Sunday, protesters set fire to the parish house at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the White House, according to Fox News.

White House riots

Protests over the murder of George Floyd on May 31, 2020 near the White House in Washington, DC.

Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images


Trump and his family are rattled, a top Republican told The New York Times, and the president has told confidantes he fears for his safety. 

The president emerged early on Saturday to threaten protesters with a tweet, describing the “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons” that awaited those who broke the White House perimeter. He called on his own supporters to stage their own demonstration outside the White House that night.

None showed up. Clashes between police and anti-racism protesters continued. 

On Sunday night the violence intensified. Rocks and debris were thrown at police, with several Secret Service agents wounded, an administration official told Fox News. 

Staff showing up to work at the White House on Monday are being advised to hide their security badges, CNN reported, to avoid being targetted. 

In his 1970 meeting with the hippies, Nixon reportedly tried to find common ground, stressing that they all, ultimately, wanted the same thing: Peace in Vietnam. 

But Trump’s main message hasn’t been one of unity. 

Trump

President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, May 30, 2020, after stepping off Marine One as he returns from Kennedy Space Center for the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch.

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky


His one public appearance over the weekend wasn’t a visit to one of the cities torn apart by days of rioting to urge calm and conciliation — it was to Florida to witness the launch of the SpaceX rocket. First Lady Melania Trump did not attend. It is not clear if she retreated to the bunker with the president and their son, Barron, on Friday. 

In remarks on Saturday, the president did attempt to strike a note of unity, declaring that “healing, not hatred; justice, not chaos, are the mission at hand.”

But in a series of tweets throughout the weekend the president largely abandoned that message, ignoring the pleas of advisers and doubling down on the divisive rhetoric that has been central to his rise to power. 

He has made no attempt to address the genuine anger and sense of injustice that has motivated many to break lockdown and take to the streets — blaming the unrest on agitators and extremists. 

 

He has claimed the instigators of the unrest are the “radical left” and “Antifa,” the anti-fascist group the president on Sunday said he was declaring a terrorist organisation, in a move experts say has little legal weight.

He has renewed attacks on the Democratic governor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, and retweeted a conspiracy theorist with links to the far-right militia movement with the one-word message: “STRENGTH.” 

In times of crisis presidents traditionally choose to address Americans directly in televised addresses, to project an image of calm leadership and assure them that policies will soon be in place to address their concerns. 

 

But as violence raged outside, Trump’s advisers decided against the president appearing on the airwaves to reassure a shaken country. According to The Washington Post they decided that a televised address wouldn’t be much use because Trump “had nothing new to say and had no tangible policy or action to announce yet.” 

Later that night, as fires burned near barricades and the protests continued to rage, the lights that illumine the exterior of the White House were turned off for reasons that remain unclear. 

 

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