Donald Trump Walks Back 'Thugs' Remark Amid Resurfaced Comparisons to 'Very Fine People' at Charlottesville

President Donald Trump called protesters "thugs" in a tweet Thursday night, and suggested, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." The comment caused Twitter to flag the tweet as "glorifying violence" and then Trump claimed to be unaware of the phrase's racial overtones. Trump's responses to the George Floyd protests were compared to his infamous "very fine people on both sides" comment after the violence at a 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and his cheering on of mostly white-armed protesters against coronavirus measures.

"These THUGS are dishonoring the memory of George Floyd, and I won't let that happen," Trump tweeted Thursday night. "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!" Twitter flagged the comment as "glorifying violence" and users still have to click on the message to make the tweet visible. The Trump Administration doubled-down on the comment, sharing it on the White House Twitter page.

On Friday night, Trump said his comments were misconstrued. "Frankly it means when there’s looting, people get shot and they die," he told the media, reports The Associated Press. Reporters also pointed out that the phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" originated with the Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, who defended his department's harsh police tactics during the Civil Rights Movement in 1967.

Trump later said he was unaware of the phrase's origin. "But I've heard it for a long time, as most people have. And frankly, it means when there’s looting, people get shot and they die," he said. Trump also said he spoke with Floyd's family and called Floyd's killing "a terrible insult to police and to policemen." Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, later told MSNBC the conversation with Trump was "so fast" and he was not given an opportunity to speak with the president.

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In another series of tweets Friday, Trump explained his use of the "looting" phrase as well. "Looting leads to shooting, and that’s why a man was shot and killed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night - or look at what just happened in Louisville with 7 people shot. I don’t want this to happen, and that’s what the expression put out last night means," the president wrote. "It was spoken as a fact, not as a statement. It’s very simple, nobody should have any problem with this other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social media. Honor the memory of George Floyd!"

Trump's decision to call protesters "thugs" immediately reminded some Twitter users of his comments in other situations. Following the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, during which a woman was killed, Trump said there were "very fine people on both sides." He also called on his supporters to "liberate" states where protesters were unhappy with measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus earlier this month.