WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump downplayed this weekend’s anti-racism demonstrations in Washington tweeting they were “much smaller than anticipated”, disagreeing with the US media and protest organisers who reported a massive turnout.

“Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated,” Trump wrote in one of many tweets he posted on Sunday.

The US media disagreed. “At times, it seemed almost all of the nation’s capital came out to protest racism and police brutality,” the L.A. Times reported.

“Throngs of protesters gathered peacefully in front of the Lincoln Memorial by midday … the first of more than a dozen similar events at other [Washington] landmarks,” the National Public Radio reported.

Marches were more often festive than tense

“We are witnessing the birth of a movement — and the downfall of a president,” noted the Salon magazine while commenting on the protests. “We’ve reached a turning point in the Trump era. The 2020 campaign is in the streets and he’s losing,” the report added.

The protests against police brutality nationwide capped a week that began in chaos but ended with largely peaceful expressions that organisers hope will sustain their movement.

Saturday and Sunday’s marches featured few reports of problems in scenes that were more often festive than tense. Authorities were not quick to release crowd size estimates, but it was clear tens of thousands of people and perhaps hundreds of thousands turned out nationally.

Wearing masks and urging fundamental change, protesters gathered in dozens of places from coast to coast while mourners in North Carolina waited for hours to glimpse the golden coffin carrying the body of native son George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has galvanised the expanding movement.

Collectively, it was perhaps the largest one-day mobilisation since Floyd died on May 25.

Demonstrations also reached four other continents, ending in clashes in London and Marseille, France.

The significance of the weekend protests also reflected in Trump’s tweets as he calibrated his posts to promote his election campaign. In one tweet, he used a popular slogan, “Defund the police”, to rally his right-wing supporters who fear the protest would make them unsafe by weakening law enforcement.

“Not only will Sleepy Joe Biden DEFUND THE POLICE, but he will DEFUND OUR MILITARY,” he wrote.

Biden, now the official candidate of the Democratic Party for the November 2020 election, has not endorsed this demand, echoed by a section of the crowd on Saturday. But Trump claimed that Biden had “no choice” because “the Democrats are controlled by the radical left”.

He also tried to take credit for an action he was forced to take which was the withdrawal of troops from Washington. “I have just given an order for our National Guards to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, now that everything is under perfect control.”

“They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed,” he said, assuring his supporters that he wants “great and well-paid law enforcement and law and order”.

In other tweets, Trump tackled former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell who on Sunday endorsed Biden, becoming the first major Republican to publicly back Trump’s rival ahead of November’s election.

“Colin Powell, a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars, just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden,” Trump tweeted. “Didn’t Powell say that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction?’ They didn’t, but off we went to WAR.”

Last week, Trump’s former defence secretary, James Mattis, said Trump lacked “mature leadership” and former White House chief of staff John Kelly also blasted Trump’s response to the protests, saying he had an “awful big concern that the partisanship has gotten out of hand, the tribal thing has gotten out of hand”. —with input from agencies

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2020