The Slatest

With Major City on Fire, President Feuds With Twitter Over Whether He Can Tweet About Shooting People

Trump, seated at a desk, speaks angrily while holding a newspaper whose headline says "Ministry of Tweet."
Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday. Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images

Protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis escalated into violence and arson again on Thursday night, though whether protesters or police were more responsible for inciting the unrest is difficult to say from outside the situation. On Friday morning, Minneapolis police arrested a black and Latino CNN correspondent live on air even though he was wearing a press credential and offering to move to a different vantage point. The backdrop of this chaos is a viral pandemic in which at least 100,000 Americans have died, which has caused an economic depression during which 40 million people and counting have lost their jobs.

The White House’s priority on Friday has been its dispute with Twitter about a message Donald Trump posted at 12:53 a.m. EST, likely while watching Fox News, in which he encouraged law enforcement officers to shoot any protesters engaged in “looting.” (“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he wrote, in what may or may not have been an intentional reference to civil rights–era Miami police chief Walter Headley, who said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” in 1967.)

After Trump sent the tweet, Twitter put a warning label over it, like so:

A label on a Trump tweet that reads "This tweet violated the Twitter rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public's interest for the tweet to remain accessible." A "view" button allows the reader to click through to see the original tweet.

The administration, like a message-board troll switching to an alt to flame the mods, responded by tweeting the same message from the official White House account; Twitter put its label over that one as well. Then, between 7:10 a.m. and 8:44 a.m. EST, Trump sent three messages about his intention to roll back “Section 230” liability protections for social media companies as retaliation for the warnings on his tweets, two of which quoted Fox News personalities:

And at 11: 15 a.m.:

The White House has also retweeted the chairman of the FCC’s Friday-morning complaint that “violence” warnings are not being applied to tweets about jihad by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran.

In a now-standard twist for our ontologically broken era, Trump’s “shooting” tweet came in the context of a threat to “send in the National Guard & get the job done right.” But the Minnesota National Guard was already deployed to Minneapolis on Thursday by the state’s governor, Tim Walz, about eight hours before Trump posted; while the president was tweeting about Section 230, one of the Guard’s leaders was with Walz at a press conference. So the power of the executive branch, in the midst of the most severe multifaceted crisis of Trump’s presidency, is concentrated not on resolving the dangerous situation in Minneapolis, or even on escalating it violently by having the National Guard imitate the tactics of a 1960s Southern police chief, but on arguing on social media about whether the chief executive has the right to pretend to be about to order the National Guard to do so.

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