US President Donald Trump listens during a briefing in Washington, DC, US, on May 28 2020. Picture: THE NEW YORK TIMES/DOUG MILLS/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES.
US President Donald Trump listens during a briefing in Washington, DC, US, on May 28 2020. Picture: THE NEW YORK TIMES/DOUG MILLS/BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES.

Washington — US President Donald Trump was taken to a secure area late Friday as a condition “red” was declared at the White House amid violent protests outside the building sparked by the death of George Floyd, a person familiar with the matter said.

It’s not clear whether the measure was repeated in the two subsequent nights of protest around the White House, but the protesters weren’t as close to the fence on those nights as they were on Friday.

Demonstrators skirmished with the US Secret Service in Lafayette Square late Friday alongside an outer ring of temporary fencing set up along the edge of the park, leading to six arrests and “multiple” injuries among the agency’s personnel, the Secret Service said. In a series of tweets Saturday morning, Trump appeared to revel in the potential for violence outside the White House, warning that Friday’s protesters would have been met by “vicious dogs” and “most ominous weapons” had they dared to breach the fence around the property.

Protesters demanded justice for Floyd, who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest for an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

A condition “red” was declared at the White House complex Friday night, three people familiar said. In that situation, the building is locked down — no-one is allowed in or out, staff are directed to minimise their movement inside the complex, and enhanced protections are put in place for the first family.

Secret Service officials were tense but calm on Friday, and some of Trump’s closest aides were dismayed that he tweeted an invitation to his own supporters to join the protests — potentially setting up a violent clash, two people familiar with the matter said. The decision to bring the president to the more secure area of the compound late Friday was reported earlier by the New York Times.

The White House declined to comment.

Protests continued Saturday and Sunday. Late Sunday, a fire broke out at St John’s Episcopal Church — directly across Lafayette Square from the White House’s northern fence. A block away, another fire was set at the AFL-CIO headquarters. Last night’s protest didn’t encroach closely on the White House perimeter.

Trump on Sunday tweeted “LAW & ORDER” and said he’d declare Antifa a terrorist group, a largely symbolic measure against a loosely organised leftist movement. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Monday that Trump is focused on targeting those protesters, as opposed to what she referred to as “legitimate peaceful protesters” among the crowds.

“This president is committed to acting on this. He has several meetings pertaining to that today. And that’s his focus right now — acting and keeping our streets safe,” she said. “We’ve got to discern and distinguish this violent Antifa from the protesters who do have a legitimate grievance.”

Trump was scheduled to meet attorney-general William Barr on Monday morning at the White House, and was to speak to governors and law enforcement officials afterward.