He insisted that governors and mayors must “dominate the streets” with an “overwhelming law enforcement presence”.
Several senior politicians condemned the plans for military intervention.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said the President’s threat to deploy the military by force was “really, truly shameful”. California senator Kamala Harris tweeted: “These are not the words of a president. They are the words of a dictator.”
As Trump was speaking, just metres away mounted police and riot officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protests from outside the White House in advance of a 7pm curfew in the US capital.
During the dispersal, Channel Seven reporter Amelia Brace and cameraman Timothy Myers were shoved and punched by police.
The fact is that the President has created an incendiary moment here.
Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has asked the Australian embassy in Washington to investigate the incident and requested advice on how to register Australia’s “strong concerns” with local authorities in Washington.
Morrison and Trump spoke on the phone earlier in the day, but the Prime Minister was not yet aware of the incident.
Moments after his press conference, Trump appeared holding a Bible at St John’s Episcopal Church, which was set on fire the previous night.
Mariann Budde, the bishop who oversees St John’s, told CNN she was “outraged” by Trump’s decision to use the place of worship for a political photo opportunity, saying his actions were “antithetical to everything this faith stands for” and that he had abused “sacred symbols”.
Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser rebuked the President in a tweet, calling the dispersal of peaceful protesters “shameful”.
“A full 25 minutes before the curfew and without provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protesters in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of [police] officers more difficult.”
During a conference call with Trump, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker urged him to tone down his combative rhetoric, a request the President quickly rebuffed.
“The fact is that the President has created an incendiary moment here,” Pritzker said.
In New York City, where over 16,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the past two months, the streets of midtown Manhattan were beset by mayhem as roving groups raided high-end stores.
The daylight protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, but have often turned violent late at night as some participants take the opportunity to seize goods and damage property.
Looters broke into Macy’s flagship store on 34th street, and carried out armloads of clothing from a nearby Nike outlet. Multiple people were arrested in the area near Rockefeller Centre, where many storefront windows were smashed.
A Microsoft store was also ransacked, while a Barnes & Noble bookstore was vandalised.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced he would move forward the citywide curfew by three hours on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST) to 8pm.
“I stand behind the protesters and their message, but unfortunately there are people who are looking to distract and discredit this moment,” Cuomo said. “The violence and the looting has been bad for the city, the state and this entire national movement, undermining and distracting from this righteous cause.”
There were mass arrests for vandalism and curfew violations in Los Angeles, including at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Arsonists set fire to a strip mall in the Van Nuys neighbourhood where looters raided mobile phone stores and pharmacies.
Police chief Michel Moore has apologised for claiming that looters were just as responsible for the death of George Floyd as the police involved.
He has taken to Twitter to clarify that he misspoke.
“While I did immediately correct myself, I recognise that my initial words were terribly offensive. Looting is wrong, but it is not the equivalent of murder and I did not mean to equate the two. I deeply regret and humbly apologise for my characterisation.”
Derek Chauvin, the 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, has been arrested on third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges. Three other officers involved in the arrest have not been charged.
The medical examiner in Minneapolis on Monday (Tuesday AEST) released autopsy findings that concluded Floyd’s death was homicide by asphyxiation, the same finding as a review commissioned by Floyd’s family.
The medical examiner’s report said Floyd suffered cardiopulmonary arrest while being restrained by police and that he had arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease, fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use.
Chauvin will appear in court next Monday, June 8.
with Rachel Eddie
Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.