Ex-Charlottesville mayor: Trump saw Floyd death, rioting as ‘an opportunity’

The former mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia, said President Donald Trump’s comments and actions after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month were shocking, but not surprising.

Shortly after counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed and dozens injured during clashes on Aug. 12, 2017, between white nationalists and counterprotesters, then-Mayor Michael Signer said Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” characterization inflamed an already tense city.

In the days after Floyd’s death, Trump called the protesters “thugs” and attacked Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey as “weak” and “radical.”

Signer said Trump’s reaction to the racial violence and tensions in Minneapolis and Charlottesville was identical.

“This was a pattern. He sees these tragedies as opportunities in a playbook he has used,” Signer said.

He said Trump uses “inflammatory white nationalism to play to his base voters, who are scattered around in only a very small number of states that make sense for his Electoral College strategy.”

Signer believes Trump was more focused on politics than compassion.

“He painted what was happening in the city as just one new chapter in a culture war that he was on top of, and he did that all right away,” Signer said. “It was clear he wasn’t consulting quietly with the city’s leaders to find out what they actually need — it was clear that, instead, Minneapolis was an opportunity.”

On Monday, Trump said he would authorize the U.S. military to quell violent and destructive protests around the country.

“I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans,” Trump said Monday in the Rose Garden. “I am also taking swift and decisive action to protect our great capital, Washington, D.C. What happened in this city last night was a total disgrace.”

Asked who should be responsible for protecting people and property, Signer said, “Yeah, that’s the job of the National Guard.”

Signer said Trump’s decision to bring the U.S. military into an already traumatic situation is counterproductive, and it’s only “attacking by inflaming, by dividing, by throwing fuel on this entire situation.”

“If you care about how a constitutional democracy works, you care about results, you care about policy. It’s a little boring, but we could use a little bit more boring today,” Signer said.

He likened Trump’s reaction to the turmoil in Minneapolis to his handling of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

“You want public health experts; you want science; you want facts; you want solving problems. You don’t want everything politicized, everything being divisive, everything being about a culture war, everything being about what makes for the best tweet.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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