Gov. Jim Justice spoke up on a call with President Trump today, saying he agrees with the president’s guidance to get tough when protests turn violent and added that he would be willing to call out the National Guard.
“You know, when it really boils right down to it, we’ve had some real peaceful protests. We welcome them,” Justice told the president.
“But absolutely we’re not going to have a problem here because first and foremost, I’m not going to put up with it. There is no way. Instantaneously, we’ll call in the Guard or do whatever we’ve got to do. But I am just exactly like you, and I’m not going to put up with this.”
Justice’s comments came 43 minutes into a videoconference call between Trump and the nation’s governors.
Comments by Trump made news because he began the call by telling governors they “have to get much tougher.”
The teleconference, which lasted nearly an hour, was almost over when Justice — a Republican who speaks often of being close with Trump — spoke up.
“Mr. President, can you hear me? This is Jim Justice of West Virginia,” he said. “All I would say to you is if it comes to pass that some states would rather you didn’t come there, you come to West Virginia. Because you’re a blooming hero here, and we’ll protect you in every way. And there won’t be any disturbance whatsoever.”
Trump responded, “I appreciate it very much, Jim” before suggesting to governors that their states should institute laws against burning the American flag.
During a daily briefing that started shortly after the teleconference ended, Justice acknowledged his participation but did not describe what he had said to Trump.
Justice did dedicate much of today’s briefing, meant to provide updates on West Virginia’s coronavirus response, to his views of the disturbances that have taken place across the country in recent days.
Justice said he is torn up over what happened to police brutality victim George Floyd, accepts peaceful protests and strongly disapproves when they turn violent.
The governor said he expects state residents would continue to demonstrate peacefully. But Justice alluded to the possibility that out-of-state agitators could prompt him to “call in the National Guard, and I would call them in a forceful way.”
That echoes Trump’s words to governors during the call — and what Justice told Trump on the call that he would do.
Trump told the governors, “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time. They’re going to run over you, and you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate.”
The president’s comments followed several nights of looting and burning in cities across the country, flowing out of protests over last week’s killing of Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
Justice reacted to Trump’s comments today after being asked how he would characterize the call.
“The president just always speaks his mind. You could tell he was surely frustrated,” said Justice, who often describes his close relationship with Trump.
“The president is saying ‘We’ve got to stop it and we’ve got to stop it right now,'” Justice continued. “That’s how the president speaks. That’s just his lingo.”
The governor concluded, “We’ve got to always remember, the president came from New York and those people speak their minds. I don’t have a problem with it.”
Not all governors on the call viewed it that way.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, told the president on the call that his recent comments have been “inflammatory.”
“We’ve called out our National Guard and our State Police,” Pritzker said on the call, “but the rhetoric that’s coming out of the White House is making it worse.”
Trump responded, “I don’t like your rhetoric much either.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, told Trump he agrees with the president’s advice.
“I couldn’t agree more with all of the things you’ve said,” Hogan said, saying that when police in Baltimore were “somewhat overwhelmed,” Maryland sent in 4,000 members of the National Guard.
“We outnumbered the protesters and immediately calmed down the violence after the first few hours, and that just allowed peaceful protest for the rest of the week. I think that was not happening in a lot of the cities. I believe in peace through strength.”
Floyd died last Monday after police summoned to a complaint about a counterfeit $20 bill arrested him, with one of the officers pinning his neck under his knee for more than eight minutes. An independent autopsy released today concluded Floyd died of asphyxiation.
“I don’t see how in the world a thing like that can happen in the first place, especially when an individual is crying out and can’t breathe,” Justice said today.
“I can’t see how any West Virginian can think that’s excusable, and we don’t.”
His death, which echoed other instances of unarmed black men killed by police, set off protests that have rapidly engulfed the nation.
Several of the governors on the call described out-of-state agitators taking the most active roles in the violence.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr also participated in the call, describing the possibility of federal prosecutions for some of the rioting.
The U.S. attorneys in northern and southern West Virginia today put out a statement that they are to identify criminal organizers and instigators, coordinating federal resources with state and local partners and seeking federal prosecutions where applicable.
“Let me be clear — this is a nation grounded in the right to protest. This nation is also grounded in the rule of law,” stated U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart of the Southern District of West Virginia. “The right to protest is not a right to loot, riot, commit property destruction or to engage in or incite violence.
West Virginia has had several protests, including one on City Hall steps in Charleston on Sunday afternoon, but there have been no reports of violence.
“We don’t need thunderstorms that are going to cause us problems,” Justice toward the end of today’s remarks. “We need change and voices heard, and they will be duly noted.”
Justice described the right to protest peacefully “to convince others that our points are valid.” In West Virginia, he said, people have “done that in a peaceful manner.”
Asked what he would do if protests would turn violent in West Virginia, Justice said he doubts state residents would behave that way.
“If the situation turns violent, I would call in the National Guard and I would call them in a forceful way,” Justice said. “I just can’t fathom that would come from West Virginians. But people coming from out of state, fanning evil, can cause a lot of problems.”
With hints of Trump’s guidance to governors, Justice concluded, “I can promise you they would not be treated in a very hospitable way.”