Earlier this week, protests erupted across Minneapolis where local police killed George Floyd, a Black man, after an officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes. Floyd's death is not the first national case of police brutality from Minnesota. Residual frustrations from the high-profile cases of Jamar Clark in 2015 and Philando Castile in 2016 contributed to an escalation in the protests of Floyd's death. The demonstrations caught President Trump's attention, and after the president posted that the protesters were "THUGS," Twitter labeled Trump's tweet as "glorifying violence."
Late Thursday night, protesters in Minneapolis set fire to the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd precinct building. While the precinct burned, Trump took to Twitter, writing, "I can't stand back [and] watch this happen to a great American city, Minneapolis. A total lack of leadership. Either the very weak Radical Left Mayor, Jacob Frey, get his act together and bring the city under control, or I will send in the National Guard [and] get the job right."
In a second tweet, Trump added:
"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won’t let that happen. Just spoke to Governor Tim Walz and told him that the Military is with him all the way. Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Thank you!"
Within hours, Twitter stated it had placed a public interest notice on Trump's second tweet because it "violates our policies regarding the glorification of violence based on the historical context of the last line, its connection to violence, and the risk it could inspire similar actions today.”
“We've taken action in the interest of preventing others from being inspired to commit violent acts, but have kept the tweet on Twitter because it is important that the public still be able to see the tweet given its relevance to ongoing matters of public importance,” the company added.
While Twitter has applied public interest notices to presidents from other countries — like Brazil's and Venezuela's, after they violated its coronavirus content rules — it has long been hesitant to do the same to Trump. That changed on Wednesday when Twitter fact-checked Trump's tweets for the first time.
Now, it seems like the company may be on a roll. The portion of Trump's tweet that likely gained the site's attention is his threat that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." While horrifying enough on its own — especially coming from the president of the United States — Trump did not come up with the phrase by himself.
Instead, these words are borrowed from Miami's former police chief, Walter Headley, who used the phrase when addressing his department's "crackdown on ... slum hoodlums" in the 1960s. The works appeared in a United Press International article from that time. Headley also said that law enforcement would target "young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign. ... We don't mind being accused of police brutality."
Trump has yet to respond directly to Twitter labeling another one of his tweets. However, he did later tweet, "The National Guard has arrived on the scene. They are in Minneapolis and fully prepared. George Floyd will not have died in vain. Respect his memory!!!"
After Twitter fact-checked his tweets on mailed ballots earlier this week, Trump claimed Twitter was going after his free speech. He then signed an executive order to limit legal protections that keep social media companies from being held liable over what people say on their platforms. Legal experts say the order itself is shaky, but one thing is clear: Trump is continuing to escalate his own personal war against social media, and other entities that disagree with him.