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WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is praising the National Guard for doing a "great job" in responding to protests that turned violent overnight in Minnesota following the death there of an African American man in police custody.
In tweets on Sunday, after a night of violence in dozens of U.S. cities, Trump blamed "ANTIFA-led anarchists" for instigating the chaos.
"Other Democrat run Cities and States should look at the total shutdown of Radical Left Anarchists in Minneapolis last night. The National Guard did a great job, and should be used in other States before it is too late!" he said.
Trump said the United States will be designating Antifa as a terrorist organization.
"As this tweet demonstrates, terrorism is an inherently political label, easily abused and misused," according to Hina Shamsi, the national security project director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "There is no legal authority for designating a domestic group. Any such designation would raise significant due process and First Amendment concerns."
The Anti-Defamation League describes Antifa as "a loose collection of groups, networks and individuals who believe in active, aggressive opposition to far right-wing movements."
Mostly peaceful protests
Unrest across America has followed what had been generally peaceful protests in the days after the death in Minneapolis of 46-year-old George Floyd, an African American man, who died after a white officer held Floyd down, pressing a knee into his neck for more than eight minutes.
States impose curfews
Curfews have been imposed in at least 25 cities in 16 U.S. states.
The violence came close to home for Trump again Saturday night, occurring within blocks of the White House while U.S. Park Police, the Secret Service and the National Guard defended a perimeter around nearby Lafayette Square.
As pepper spray pushed back hundreds of protesters, vandals smashed windows of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, two banks and dozens of other businesses were damaged and looted within blocks of the White House, as well as in the upscale Georgetown neighborhood.
Protesters set small fires inside two restaurants across the street from the White House Historical Association, just off Lafayette Square, and multistory scaffolding was also set on fire in a portion of the nearby U.S. Chamber of Commerce building under construction, adjacent to the Hay-Adams Hotel.
Vandalism on National Mall
There were also numerous instances of vandalism to sites around the National Mall.
"For generations the Mall has been our nation's premier civic gathering space for non-violent demonstrations, and we ask individuals to carry on that tradition," pleaded the National Park Service in a tweet Sunday afternoon.
The Washington fire department responded to the larger fires, but witnesses said local police were conspicuously absent as the vandalism occurred, some of it playing out live on local and national television.
The violence was conducted by an "organized group more bent on destruction than on protest," Mayor Muriel Bowser told reporters, explaining that she walked around the area at 3 a.m. to see the many businesses that had been attacked, but also observed a "beautiful downtown D.C. still standing."
The mayor added "it was maddening to think that anybody would destroy property, put our officers in danger and put themselves in danger."
DC police officers injured
Eleven D.C. Metro Police officers were injured during Saturday night's protests, according to the department's chief, Peter Newsham. He said one officer sustained a compound leg fracture and was to undergo surgery Sunday.
A total of 29 of the department's vehicles were damaged or spray painted, according to Newsham.
The Secret Service, in a statement, said more than 60 of its uniformed officers and special agents had been injured since Friday night, with 11 taken to hospital after being hit by projectiles, "kicked, punched and exposed to bodily fluids."
People have a right to protest but "not to destroy the city," Bowser said.
A reporter asked the mayor about her earlier criticism of the president's tweeted comments that were interpreted by many as adding fuel to the fire.
"The president has a role to play nationally in calming the unrest that we see in cities across America," she said. "At the least, he has to not incite violence and that is what we expect."
If Trump addresses the nation, "I hope that it's presidential" and calms the nation.
Bracing for Sunday evening events
Newsham told reporters "we are hoping that cooler heads will prevail" at planned events Sunday evening. "We will have sufficient department resources to manage this."
President Trump, who was in the White House both Friday and Saturday night, praised the Secret Service response and tweeted on Saturday that if demonstrators had come any closer the authorities would have responded with "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons."
Trump claimed Secret Service agents told him they were clamoring for engagement with the demonstrators.
"We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and good practice," he quoted them as saying.
Trump appeared to invite his supporters to amass on Saturday to counter the protesters.
"Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???" he tweeted, using the acronym for his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again."
No such crowd of the president's supporters appeared.