It’s become a pattern when unrest flares in a city: President Donald Trump suggests he has National Guard troops ready to send to the scene and takes credit for dispatching them and restoring calm while he accuses Democrats of being squishy on law and order. That’s a distortion.
Trump omits the facts that he is largely a bystander in National Guard deployments. While residents can tap rarely used powers to use federal officers for local law enforcement, there is no National Guard with national reach for Trump to send around the country.
And when violence broke out in Kenosha, Wisconsin, more than a week ago, Trump’s demand that National Guard troops be used came a day after the Democratic governor had already activated them.
National Guard units in each state answer to the governor and sometimes state legislatures, not to the president. When National Guard forces from outside Wisconsin came in to help, it was because the governor had asked for that help from fellow governors, not the White House.
You would know none of this from Trump’s Twitter account and much of his other rhetoric in recent weeks, as he has assailed Democratic officials in Minnesota, Oregon and Wisconsin for not doing enough quickly enough to stem violence.
Here’s how Trump’s words played against reality after a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer shot Jacob Blake, sparking protests and yet more violence over law enforcement actions and racism:
TRUMP, TUESDAY, AUG. 25: “Governor should call in the National Guard in Wisconsin. It is ready, willing, and more than able. End problem FAST! ”
THE FACTS: Although Trump was within his right to urge use of the National Guard, he did not seem up to speed on the fact it had already happened.
On Monday, Aug. 24 – the day after Blake’s shooting – Gov. Tony Evers issued a statement saying that at the request of local officials, he had “authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support local law enforcement in Kenosha County to help protect critical infrastructure and assist in maintaining public safety and the ability of individuals to peacefully protest.”
On that Tuesday night, when police say a 17-year-old armed civilian shot and killed two protesters, Wisconsin National Guard troops were on the ground.
TRUMP, WEDNESDAY, AUG. 26: “TODAY, I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!”
THE FACTS: The statement that he was sending the National Guard is false.
The statement that he would send federal law enforcement is true. The federal government sent deputy marshals from the U.S. Marshals Service and agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about 200 in all.
Meantime the governor declared a state of emergency and kept increasing the numbers of deployed Wisconsin National Guard troops while saying he was working with other states to get “additional National Guard and state patrol support.”
The next day, Thursday, Evers announced that National Guard troops from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama were coming and would operate under the control of those states and Wisconsin, “not in a federal status.”
TRUMP, FRIDAY, AUG. 28: “Success: Since the National Guard moved into Kenosha, Wisconsin, two days ago, there has been NO FURTHER VIOLENCE, not even a small problem. When legally asked to help by local authorities, the Federal Government will act and quickly succeed. Are you listening Portland?”
THE FACTS: This statement falsely insinuates that the federal government sent the National Guard and took care of the problem. He also implies that Portland, Oregon, was dragging its feet in having federal authorities do the same there.
In Wisconsin, officials said the ranks of the Guard had swollen to 1,000 in Kenosha and more were coming from the three states tapped to help.
TRUMP, SATURDAY, AUG. 29: “Kenosha has been very quiet for the third night in a row or, since the National Guard has shown up. That’s the way it works, it’s all very simple. Portland, with a very ungifted mayor, should request help from the Federal Government. If lives are endangered, we’re going in!”
THE FACTS: Another boast based on the falsehood that Trump sent in the Guard to Kenosha.
That night, in Portland, a skirmish broke out between Trump supporters and counter protesters, and afterward a right-wing Trump supporter was fatally shot.
TRUMP, AUG. 30, referring to Portland: “The National Guard is Ready, Willing and Able. All the Governor has to do is call!”
THE FACTS: No, calling the White House is not what governors do when they want National Guard help. They call other governors. In earlier protests in Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., Trump sent security teams from federal agencies over the objections of local leaders.
TRUMP, MONDAY: “If I didn’t INSIST on having the National Guard activate and go into Kenosha, Wisconsin, there would be no Kenosha right now. Also, there would have been great death and injury. I want to thank Law Enforcement and the National Guard.”
THE FACTS: He insisted on action that the governor had already taken and claims a success he did not earn.