LONDONDERRY (New Hampshire) • Fresh from accepting the Republican nomination, US President Donald Trump had harsh words for anti-racism protesters during a campaign stop in the politically important state of New Hampshire.
Addressing a crowd in an airport hangar on Friday, he called the protesters who sought to disrupt his White House speech on Thursday night “thugs” and said Senator Rand Paul could have died when he was swarmed by protesters afterwards.
Mr Paul said on Friday that he was attacked by an “angry mob” of more than 100 people near the White House and had to be rescued by the police.
Mr Trump said of the Republican senator: “He’d either be in very bad shape or dead, and that would include his wife, if those policemen didn’t happen to be there.”
Mr Trump has emphasised a “law and order” theme to motivate his political base and attract more voters as he trails former vice-president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in national polls ahead of the Nov 3 election.
“You know what I say? Protesters, your ass. I don’t talk about my ass,” he said. “They’re not protesters. Those aren’t protesters. Those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”
Mr Trump has been criticised for not showing empathy in the wake of shootings and killings of black men by police, including Mr George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May, sparking anti-racism demonstrations worldwide.
New protests erupted in Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week after police officers shot Mr Jacob Blake, another black man, multiple times in front of his children. He survived.
Thousands of people took part in a march in Washington on Friday to denounce racism.
Mr Trump has not commented extensively about Mr Blake, but he spoke extensively about protesters on Friday without specifying which demonstration he was talking about.
“They’re just looking for trouble. This has nothing to do with George Floyd, has nothing to do with anything. They don’t even know who George Floyd is,” he said.
Mr Biden and his running mate, vice-presidential nominee Senator Kamala Harris, said Mr Trump was making America less safe with his rhetoric and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The President incites violence, inspires white-supremacist shooters, and his failed Covid response is costing thousands of lives per day. When you look at the world right now, ask yourself: Do you feel safe in Trump’s America?” Mr Biden tweeted.
Ms Harris said at a fund-raiser: “He (Trump) has been obsessed, I think, with spreading fear and using division to protect his own ego, and more fundamentally to erode the foundations of the democracy that he swore to defend.”
Mr Trump, whose speech to the Republican National Convention was low key compared with his rally appearances, seemed to find his footing in New Hampshire, a state he lost narrowly to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 and where he is trailing Mr Biden this year.
He went over some of his favourite themes, including his insistence that Mexico would pay for a wall along the US border and that Democrats would try to slash funding for law enforcement.
Mr Biden has rejected calls from the left to “defund” the police, but Mr Trump has erroneously suggested that it is a policy Mr Biden would embrace.
Mr Trump, who has criticised Mr Biden for campaigning mostly from his Delaware home because of the pandemic, intends to travel extensively in the coming months to boost his momentum. He has not been able to hold his signature large rallies due to the pandemic.
A June rally at an indoor arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma, attracted a crowd that was well below capacity. The area experienced an uptick in coronavirus cases for weeks after the event. And last month, Mr Trump had to cancel a rally in New Hampshire over concerns about a tropical storm off the East Coast.