WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday launched his most direct attacks to date on the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice.
Trump, seizing on a quote by a man who runs a fringe Black Lives Matter knock-off group, and a chant that is not popular with protesters, suggested in tweets that the loosely organized racial justice movement poses a threat.
Trump was quoting Walter "Hawk" Newsome, who was a guest on Fox News earlier in the day. In the same interview, Newsome also said that BLM activists should be applauded for arming themselves with guns, and he said his threat to "burn down this system" could be either figurative or literal, depending upon one's viewpoint.
In his tweet, Trump falsely described Newsome as a "Black Lives Matter leader." But in reality, Newsome has repeatedly angered the founders of the official Black Lives Matter movement by adopting their moniker and raising money off of it, while espousing an approach to racial justice that is far more militant than the main branch of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Reached for comment about Newsome's Fox News interview, a BLM spokesperson told CNBC, "As BLM has told Mr. Newsome in the past, and as is still true today, Mr. Newsome's group is not a chapter of BLM and has not entered into any agreement with BLM agreeing to adhere to BLM's core principles."
CNBC reached out to the White House to ask if the president was aware that Newsome was not actually a "Black Lives Matter leader," but a spokesman did not respond to questions.
Exactly one minute after Trump tweeted out Newsome's quote, he posted another tweet about BLM.
This time, Trump railed at New York Mayor Bill De Blasio's recently announced decision to paint a "Black Lives Matter" mural on Fifth Avenue in front of one of Trump Tower, the site of Trump's former residence. It is one of five such murals being painted throughout the city.
Trump claims in the tweet that a chant about killing police is "their chant," referring to the Black Lives Matter movement. But that chant has not been popular with protesters in New York or anywhere else in the country in the wake of George Floyd's killing in late May in Minneapolis.
Five minutes after the mural tweet, Trump tweeted, "LAW AND ORDER!" one of his most oft-repeated phrases ever since the start of the nationwide movement for racial justice that was triggered by Floyd's death.
The tweets come near the end of a week during which the president, trailing badly behind Democrat Joe Biden in presidential polls, has repeatedly sought to sow fresh racial divisions among Americans.
In the past seven days, Trump has deployed a racist nickname for the deadly coronavirus, demanded that a toppled Confederate statue in Washington be restored, tweeted context-free videos of black people attacking white people, tweeted a doctored video purportedly showing a "racist baby," and accused former President Barack Obama of "treason."
By cranking up the same culture wars that helped Trump to win the White House in 2016, the president hopes to galvanize his core supporters, and to drive a wedge between suburban middle-class White voters and the activists protesting in cities across the nation.
Yet polls increasingly show that Trump's strategy is backfiring. Instead of siding with Trump against the protests, some of which have turned violent, a majority of Americans say the country's leaders should focus on the underlying reasons for the protests, and not on cracking down on protesters, even ones who break the law.
A New York Times/Siena College poll released this week found that 63% of registered voters said they would rather back a presidential candidate "who focuses on the cause of protests, even when the protests go too far." Only 31% said they would prefer to support a candidate "who says we need to be tough on demonstrations that go too far."