US President Donald Trump told the nation's governors in a video teleconference on Monday to aggressively go after violent protesters after three nights of unrest in dozens of cities across the country.
"You have to dominate or you'll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people," the President told governors in a call from the basement White House Situation Room, reports the CNN.
In the conversation, which also included law enforcement and national security officials, Trump also emphasized it was his belief the violence is being brought on by forces from the "radical left".
"It's a movement, if you don't put it down it will get worse and worse," Trump said.
"The only time its successful is when you're weak and most of you are weak."
Trump said the "whole world was laughing at Minneapolis over the police station getting burned," referring to the city where protests began last week after the death of an unarmed black man who was being taken into police custody.
The hardline message came as Trump and his advisers were continuing to debate the wisdom of a national address following three nights of violent protests in dozens of cities, even as Trump was busy making his views known on Twitter.
Meanwhile, aides were beginning outreach to black leaders to gauge interest and availability for a "listening session" later this week that some of Trump's advisers believe is necessary before delivering any formal address to the nation.
During his time in office, Trump has hired only a few black senior aides. His Cabinet is mostly white, with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson the only black member. In recent months Surgeon General Dr Jerome Adams, who is also black, has taken on a more prominent role during the coronavirus pandemic.
Inside the West Wing, Ja'Ron Smith is a high-ranking African American senior adviser and has been engaged in discussions with other aides over how to best address the situation.
"This is one tough, smart cookie," Trump said of Smith during a roundtable with African American leaders last month in Michigan.
Trump has sought to make inroads with African American voters in recent months, suggesting -- as he did in the 2016 election -- that they have nothing to lose in supporting him. But he has not focused intently on issues of police brutality or institutional racism during the first three and half years of his presidency.
While he championed a criminal justice reform effort spearheaded by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, he has also maintained the "law and order" mantle he believes helped propel him to the White House and has worked to roll back Obama-era initiatives meant to demilitarize local police departments.
If there was any question on which side Trump was landing after three nights of sometimes-violent protests -- including outside the gates of a highly fortified White House -- he made clear on Twitter he was focused on tamping down on unrest.
"LAW & ORDER," he wrote on Twitter late Sunday.
The President has not been seen in public since traveling to Florida on Saturday and his schedule did not include any public appearances Monday. Trump and his family were briefly hustled to an underground bunker as protests raged outside the White House on Friday night.
He was planning to host a teleconference with governors, law enforcement authorities and national security officials in the basement White House Situation Room. But aides were still deliberating how and whether Trump should come out and address some of the worst unrest in decades.
Trump's 11 am ET video teleconference was an indication he is focused for now on law-and-order issues amid the nationwide violence, not necessarily the underlying issues of racism and police brutality that initially sparked the protests.
His tweets and retweets have centered on going after the anarchist Antifa group and quelling violence, sometimes using a militaristic tone.
Inside the White House, advisers remain divided over whether a speech delivered from the Oval Office or elsewhere at the White House would help lower the national temperature. It did not seem such a speech was imminent on Monday morning.
"A national Oval Office address is not going to stop Antifa," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in an appearance Monday on Fox News, noting that Trump had addressed the killing of George Floyd -- a black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest -- several times already.
"The President has addressed this repeatedly," she said. Later, McEnany said Trump's "focus right now is acting and keeping our streets safe."