President Donald Trump on Friday called protesters in Minneapolis “thugs” and said that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — drawing another warning from Twitter for his rhetoric. Trump tweeted after protesters outraged by the death of a black man in police custody torched a police station.
In a pair of tweets just before 1 a.m., Trump slammed Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey for the "total lack of leadership" and warned him to "get his act together and bring the city under control," or he would send in the National Guard to "get the job done." Gov. Tim Walz had already activated the Guard earlier Thursday at the mayor's request.
"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen,” Trump tweeted, adding that he had spoken to Walz and told him that "the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"
Twitter slapped a public interest notice on the second tweet, warning it violated the platform's rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter did not remove the tweet, saying it had determined it might be in the public interest to have it remain accessible. It does that only for tweets by elected and government officials. A user looking at Trump’s timeline would have to click to see the original tweet.
“We’ve taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the Tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the Tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” Twitter said on its communications account.
A tweet using the same language as Trump's was later posted on the official White House Twitter account, an apparent attempt to circumvent the restriction. Twitter responded by placing a warning label on that tweet as well.
Asked about Trump's tweets at a news conference early Friday, Frey fired back at Trump, saying that type of finger pointing is weak.
"Weakness is refusing to take responsibility for your actions. Weakness is pointing your finger at somebody else during a time of crisis," the mayor said "Donald Trump knows nothing about the strength of Minneapolis. We are strong as hell. Is this a difficult time period? Yes. But you better be damn sure that we’re gonna get through this."
Trump, a prolific Twitter user, has been at war with the company since earlier this week, when it applied fact checks to two of his tweets about mail-in ballots.
The earlier tweets that Twitter flagged were not hidden but did come with an option to “get the facts about mail-in ballots," a link that led to fact checks and news stories by media organizations. Those tweets called mail-in ballots “fraudulent” and predicted that “mail boxes will be robbed,” among other things.
Twitter’s decision to flag Trump's tweets came as the president continued to use the platform to push a debunked conspiracy theory accusing MSNBC host and former congressman Joe Scarborough of killing a staffer in his Florida congressional office in 2001. Medical officials determined the staffer had an undiagnosed heart condition, passed out and hit her head as she fell.
Scarborough, who was in Washington, not Florida, at the time, has urged the president to stop his baseless attacks. The staffer's husband also recently demanded that Twitter remove the tweets. The company issued a statement expressing its regret to the husband but so far has taken no other action.
On Thursday, Trump targeted Twitter and other social media companies by signing an executive order challenging the lawsuit protections that have served as a bedrock for online free speech.
The order directs executive branch agencies to ask independent rule-making agencies including the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission to study whether they can place new regulations on the companies, though experts express doubts much can be done without an act of Congress.
The president and fellow conservatives have claimed for years that Silicon Valley tech companies are biased against them. But there is no evidence for this, and while the executives and many employees of Twitter, Facebook and Google may lean liberal, the companies have stressed they have no business interest in favoring one political party over the other.