PHOENIX • US President Donald Trump sought to turn nationwide protests to his political advantage in a campaign appearance in the election swing state of Arizona on Tuesday, vowing to prevent "the left-wing mob" from pushing the United States into chaos.
Mr Trump, whose first rally amid the coronavirus pandemic on Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, drew fewer supporters than expected and was seen as exposing weaknesses in his campaign, pushed a law-and-order theme in Phoenix before a cheering audience of several thousand young people.
He pointed to demonstrators who tried to topple a statue of 19th-century president Andrew Jackson near the White House on Monday night and an "autonomous zone" set up by protesters in Seattle as reasons to keep him in office rather than electing Democrat Joe Biden on Nov 3.
"It's not the behaviour of a peaceful political movement. It's the behaviour of totalitarians and dictators and people who don't love our country," he said.
Outside the church where Mr Trump was speaking, police forcibly dispersed hundreds of protesters marching in an adjacent "free speech zone". Phoenix police declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly after protesters started blocking a street. Officers in riot gear then used flash-bang grenades to push protesters well away from the church.
Mr Trump is also under attack from many Americans for his handling of the protests in response to the death of Mr George Floyd, an African American, in police custody in Minneapolis.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump said those protesting against racial injustice and police brutality "hate our history. They hate our values, and they hate everything we prize as Americans".
He added: "We don't bow down to left-wing bullies."
Earlier, Mr Trump visited a newly built section of the border wall along the frontier with Mexico where he autographed a plaque commemorating the 200th mile of the wall.
The trip was Mr Trump's third this year to Arizona, which reported a record increase of more than 3,500 coronavirus cases on Tuesday. The state also saw record hospitalisations, admissions to intensive care units and numbers of patients on ventilators.
NOT A PEACEFUL MOVEMENT
It's not the behaviour of a peaceful political movement. It's the behaviour of totalitarians and dictators and people who don't love our country.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, on protesters staging nationwide rallies.
THREAT OF FORCE
There will never be an 'autonomous zone' in Washington, DC, as long as I'm your President. If they try, they will be met with serious force!
MR TRUMP, who had referred to such a zone in Seattle set up by protesters.
Meanwhile, Twitter on Tuesday hid a tweet from Mr Trump in which he threatened to use "serious force" against protesters in the US capital, saying it broke rules over abusive content.
The move appeared to be the first by Twitter against the President for an "abusive" tweet.
In a growing dispute, the platform has recently labelled other Trump tweets as misleading and violating its standards on promoting violence.
"There will never be an 'autonomous zone' in Washington, DC, as long as I'm your President. If they try, they will be met with serious force!" Mr Trump tweeted.
The action by Twitter requires users to click through to read the Trump tweet, with a tag on the message that it "violated the Twitter rules about abusive behaviour" but that it would remain accessible "in the public's interest".
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE