A top Republican senator on Monday called the president to deploy active-duty military units to restore order in the wake of increasingly violent nationwide protests, saying that leaders need to have “zero tolerance” for the damage being caused.
The suggestion by Army veteran Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., came just a few hours before a White House call where President Donald Trump blasted numerous governors for being “weak” in the face of the protests and urging a tougher crackdown on violence, according to the Associated Press.
More than 17,00 National Guard troops have been deployed across 23 states and the District of Columbia to help calm growing tensions with the now week-long protests, sparked by the killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis.
After days of largely peaceful demonstrations, Sunday marked some of the most violent outbursts in several major cities. In Washington, D.C., buildings and cars were lit on fire just a few blocks away from the White House, prompting heightened security for the presidential residence.
On Monday morning, during an appearance on Fox News, Cotton said officials need to respect the rights of “peaceful protesters” but added that “anarchy, rioting, and looting — we have zero tolerance for that — and it needs to end tonight.”
“If local law enforcement is overwhelmed, if local politicians will not do their most basic job to protect our citizens, let's see how these anarchists respond when the 101st Airborne is on the other side of the street,” said Cotton, who served with the division in Iraq in 2006.
Cotton later repeated the idea on social media, saying the president should use “the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry — whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”
Later in the day, Trump took to social media to praise Cotton for the statement.
The senator also said the president should consider invoking the Insurrection Act to deal with the protests. The law allows the president to activate federal troops during emergencies to perform certain law enforcement duties, with or without a governor’s request.
The statute was used in 1992 when then President George H.W. Bush deployed federal troops to Los Angeles in the wake of the controversial Rodney King verdict. President George W. Bush invoked the law in 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to place active-duty troops at American civilian airports.
Defense Department officials did not respond to requests for response on Cotton’s remarks or on whether the White House has broached the topic of the Insurrection Act with senior Pentagon leaders.
Trump on social media has repeatedly blamed the protests on anti-fascist groups and the media. On Saturday, he said state leaders need to get “tougher” on the protesters, to include “using the unlimited power of our military.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz — a former state Army National Guardsman — over the weekend talked to Defense Secretary Mark Esper about the potential for active-duty troops to buttress existing Guard security missions in his state.
In response, Pentagon leaders over the weekend announced that U.S. Northern Command had increased the alert status of several units that could be mobilized on short notice to help with protest response.
Numerous state and local leaders announced new curfews on starting Monday night in an effort to calm tensions and discourage mass gatherings.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.