Sitting across from President Trump on Thursday in a one-on-one interview about the unrest over racism and police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, Fox News host Harris Faulkner shifted the conversation to Trump’s tweets.
“You look at me, and I’m Harris on TV, but I’m a black woman. I’m a mom,” Faulkner told Trump. “You’ve talked about it, but we haven’t seen you come out and be that consoler in this instance.
“And the tweets, ‘When the looting starts, the shooting starts,’ ” she continued, referencing Trump’s widely criticized response to the Minneapolis protests last month, which many interpreted to be a racist threat of violence. Faulkner, who has defended Trump against critics in the past, then paused, briefly averting her eyes before looking back at the president.
“Why those words?” she asked.
The question sparked a remarkable exchange between Trump and Faulkner, in which the host pressed the president about his tweet — a post she later described as “incendiary” — and pointedly educated him on the violent origins of the language he chose to parrot. It was the first time Trump had been questioned about the inflammatory tweet in a televised interview on a major network, and clips of the segment swiftly went viral Thursday night.
Faulkner sat down with Trump in Dallas on Thursday, shortly after he wrapped up a roundtable on policing and race in which he praised the forceful tactics used by authorities against protesters in Minneapolis. In portions of the interview broadcast on Fox News on Thursday evening, the pair discussed Trump’s response to the protests as well as anti-police sentiment and the ongoing demonstrations in Seattle, which the president and conservatives have railed against in recent days. The full interview is scheduled to air Friday afternoon.
When Faulkner brought up Trump’s May 29 tweets, zeroing in on the “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” quote, the president had an explanation ready.
“So, that’s an expression I’ve heard over the years,” he started to say, prompting Faulkner to interject, “Do you know where it comes from?”
“I think Philadelphia,” he said. “The mayor of Philadelphia.”
“No,” Faulkner interrupted, cutting the president off again. “It comes from 1967.”
The host went on to inform Trump that the words were first uttered by Walter Headley, the Miami police chief who held a news conference in 1967 “declaring war” on criminals as armed robberies and unrest consumed black neighborhoods in the city. Headley warned at the time that officers would use shotguns and dogs, adding, “We don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”
“I’ve let the word filter down that when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Headley said.
Because Trump had included Headley’s quote in tweets threatening to deploy the military to Minneapolis in response to reports of looting and other acts of violence, many accused the president of suggesting that soldiers should use deadly force against citizens. Trump’s tweet and a post from the White House repeating his comments were both flagged by Twitter for “glorifying violence,” leading the social media company to take the unprecedented step of limiting the public’s ability to view and share the tweets.
Trump has since defended himself, tweeting that his use of the expression was misinterpreted.
….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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 29, 2020
After Faulkner’s history lesson about Trump’s turn of phrase, which she told the president had “frightened a lot of people,” Trump continued to insist that he had heard former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo say something similar.
“He had an expression like that,” Trump said, referring to Rizzo as “a very tough mayor.” “But I’ve heard it many times. … I think it’s been used many times.”
Rizzo, who died in 1991, earned a reputation at the time as being tough on crime, but has long been criticized for his treatment of Philadelphia’s black and gay communities. Earlier this month, after being repeatedly targeted and defaced by protesters, a statue of Rizzo was removed by the city, with Mayor Jim Kenney (D) calling it “a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others.”
As The Washington Post’s Michael S. Rosenwald reported, Headley’s remark has been repeated by other public figures throughout the years, including former Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, who said the phrase on the campaign trail. But it is unclear whether Rizzo ever uttered the words, and Trump did not provide evidence for his claim Thursday.
Meanwhile, Trump also doubled down on his defense that the phrase has more than one meaning.
“It means two things, very different things,” Trump told Faulkner. “One is, if there’s looting, there’s probably going to be shooting, and that’s not as a threat, that’s really just a fact, because that’s what happens. And the other is, if there’s looting, there’s going to be shooting. They’re very different meanings.”
“Oh, interesting,” Faulkner responded.
When asked if he thought “most people see it that way,” Trump replied, “I think they see it both ways.”
“It’s meant both ways, not by the same person,” he said. “But when the looting starts, there oftentimes means there’s going to be shooting, there’s going to be death, there’s going to be killing, and that’s a bad thing. And it’s also used as a threat.”
While speaking to Fox News’s Martha MacCallum later Thursday, Faulkner praised Trump for “talking about some of the tougher issues.”
“It was time to press on some of those issues because while he has touched on certain things, he has not done that traditional … Oval Office address on race,” she said. “I told him, as a person of color, there’s no glossing over, there’s no kind of driving by the fact that some of his tweets during the protesting and some of the rioting and looting have been incendiary.”