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Demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020, near the White House in Washington. (AP/Vucci) Demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020, near the White House in Washington. (AP/Vucci)

Demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020, near the White House in Washington. (AP/Vucci)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg June 2, 2020
Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy June 2, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Donald Trump said he is “an ally of all peaceful protesters” and has defended the practice.

  • He labeled athletes kneeling during the national anthem to protest police killings of blacks as unpatriotic. He praised rules against kneeling.

  • He encouraged rough treatment of hecklers at his rallies, and offered to pay legal fees of any supporter charged with assault.

In the minutes before President Donald Trump made his way from the White House to a neighboring church that had been burned the night before, federal police fired spray canisters and rubber bullets to disperse non-violent protesters in the area. In a Rose Garden speech, Trump pressed the need for decisive force to quell looting and violence tied to anger over the death in police hands of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

But he also said he supported peaceful demonstrations.

"The biggest victims of the rioting are peace loving citizens in our poorest communities and as their president, I will fight to keep them safe. I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters," Trump said June 1. "But in recent days, our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, antifa and others."

Trump has said before that peaceful protests are the hallmark of democracy.

"Even if I don't always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views," he said Jan. 22, 2017, the day after the Women’s March on Washington to protest his presidency.

But Trump has also pushed back against protests, especially the Black Lives Matter movement. We reviewed his record.

Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests

Since his campaign, Trump has been critical of Black Lives Matter, saying as a candidate that he thinks the movement is "trouble" and  "looking for trouble."

He has been particularly vocal about the peaceful protests of NFL athletes, led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to demonstrate against police brutality toward black men.

For years, Trump has disparaged Kaepernick and other players, demanding they be suspended or fired for what he said was "total disrespect" to the U.S. and its flag. 

At one 2017 rally, Trump said NFL owners should respond to kneeling players by saying, "Get that son of a b---- off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!" 

"You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country," he added in an interview with Fox News.

After Kaepernick left the 49ers, Trump celebrated a report that said NFL owners were hesitant to sign the quarterback for fear of a "nasty tweet" from the president.

Then, after Vice President Mike Pence attended an Indianapolis Colts game only to leave once players knelt during the national anthem, Trump tweeted that he "asked @VP Pence to leave (the) stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country."

Kneeling during the anthem, he has said, is "not acceptable" and has "nothing to do with race." 

"Find another way to protest," Trump tweeted in 2018.

"When you want to protest, I think that’s great, but I don’t think you do it at the sake of the flag, at the sake of our national anthem," he said in a 2019 interview.

Tough words for Maxine Waters

In the summer of 2018, Trump escalated the open argument between him and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., over Trump’s zero-tolerance policy at the Mexico border, which resulted in family separations.

When Waters encouraged protesters to shun administration officials in restaurants and other public places, Trump tweeted that Waters "has just called for harm to supporters, of which there are many, of the Make America Great Again movement. Be careful what you wish for Max!"

Waters never mentioned Trump’s supporters. She focused on his Cabinet.

While commentators on both the left and the right criticized Waters’ message, Trump’s tweet generated even more concern that his last line, "be careful what you wish for," carried an implicit threat. 

For the record, at a rally in Los Angeles, Waters told the crowd, "if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they're not welcome anymore, anywhere."

Campaign rallies

In March, at one of his final rallies before the coronavirus shut down large public gatherings, Trump noted that "we don’t have too many protesters anymore, do we?"

"No fun to be a protester at a Trump rally," he said.

Leading up the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump reserved harsh words for protesters who popped up at his rallies, including those whose actions were peaceful.

"I’d like to punch him in the face," Trump said of one protester he claimed was "nasty as hell" in Nevada. CNN reported that the protester seemed compliant with security officials.

Previously, Trump ordered another protester "the hell out" after his chants of "black lives matter" interrupted a different rally. Trump later said that "maybe he should have been roughed up." 

The protester said in a lawsuit that the trouble began when a companion of his was recording video and a rally goer slapped the phone from his hand, according to They started chanting in response.

In yet another incident, a man attending a Trump rally punched a demonstrator on his way out of the venue after Trump promised the crowd at an earlier rally that he would "pay the legal fees" for anyone who "knock(ed) the crap out" of certain protesters.

Afterward, Trump told "Meet the Press" that he didn’t condone violence but had instructed his campaign to look into paying the man’s legal fees.

Trump taunted various protesters, too, making fun of one protester in Iowa for his turban.

Crowds Trump likes and those he doesn’t

Trump has dismissed and disparaged countless protests of his policies. And he has praised similar gatherings by those who share his views. 

When opponents of placing Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court marched and rallied, Trump referred to them as "a mob" and tagged all Democrats in the midterm elections as "too extreme and too dangerous to govern." 

"Republicans believe in the rule of law — not the rule of the mob," Trump tweeted Oct. 11, 2018.

During the 2016 campaign in California, protesters formed a human barricade across a road in front of the hotel where Trump was speaking to California Republicans. Some tried to enter the hotel and were pushed back by police.

"The ‘protesters’ in California were thugs and criminals," Trump tweeted. "Many are professionals. They should be dealt with strongly by law enforcement!"

The idea of professional protesters is a favored Trump theme. He said of the Kavanaugh opponents, "The paid D.C. protesters are now ready to REALLY protest because they haven't gotten their checks."

But he has shown support for protesters, too. 

Trump signaled support for white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when they encountered counter-protesters. "There are fine people on both sides," he said. It took him several attempts before he called out the right-wing protesters without qualifications.

This year, when men carrying semi-automatic rifles installed themselves in Michigan’s statehouse to demand an end to COVID-19 restrictions, Trump tweeted, "These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again."

Trump also has advice for foreign leaders who face their own protesters. He suggested dialogue as Hong Kong democracy protesters came out daily in 2019.

"If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!," Trump tweeted Aug. 15.

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Our Sources

White House, Statement by the President, June 1, 2020

The Washington Post, "Perhaps Trump’s most ludicrous claim: That he is an ‘ally of all peaceful protesters,'" June 1, 2020

Factbase Videos on YouTube, "Speech: Donald Trump Holds a Political Rally in Charlotte, NC - March 2, 2020," March 2, 2020

Factbase Videos on YouTube, "Interview: Donald Trump Interviewed by Margaret Brennan on CBS's Face the Nation - February 3, 2019," Feb. 3, 2019, "Black protesters removed from Birmingham Trump rally sue campaign and convention center," Jan. 13, 2019

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Aug. 10, 2018

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, July 20, 2018

CNN on YouTube, "Trump: NFL players who kneel 'shouldn't be in the country,'" March 24, 2018

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Nov. 20, 2017

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Oct. 23, 2017

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Oct. 18, 2017

Factbase Videos on YouTube, "Interview: Sean Hannity Interviews Donald Trump on FOX News - October 11, 2017," Oct. 17, 2017

Factbase Videos on YouTube, "Speech: Donald Trump At a Rally for Luther Strange in Huntsville, AL - September 22, 2017," Oct. 17, 2017

Donald Trump, tweet, April 30, 2016

Donald Trump, tweet, Jan. 22, 2017

Donald Trump, tweet, Oct. 6, 2018

Donald Trump, tweet, Aug. 15, 2019 

Donald Trump, tweet, May 1, 2020

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Oct. 8, 2017

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Sept. 25, 2017

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, Sept. 24, 2017

The Washington Post, "Donald Trump reverses course on paying legal fees for man who attacked protester. But could he do it?" March 15, 2016

The New York Times, "Black Protester Punched at Trump Rally," March 10, 2016

CNN, "Donald Trump on protester: 'I'd like to punch him in the face,'" Feb. 23, 2016

The Washington Post, "Donald Trump makes hat joke as turban-clad protester ejected from Iowa rally," Jan. 25, 2016

The Washington Post, "Trump on rally protester: ‘Maybe he should have been roughed up,'" Nov. 22, 2015

Business Insider, "Donald Trump trashes Black Lives Matter: 'I think they're trouble,'" Sept. 9, 2015

NBC News, "Meet the Press," March 13, 2016

New York Times, "Protest Turns Rowdy as Donald Trump Appears at California G.O.P. Convention," April 29, 2016

NBC News, "Meet the Press," March 13, 2016

PolitiFact,  "Have U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters and President Donald Trump made statements that encourage violence?" June 26, 2018

PolitiFact, "In Context: President Donald Trump’s statement on ‘many sides’ in Charlottesville, Va.," Aug. 14, 2017

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