As the nation was rocked by waves of protests, the White House went dark on Sunday night.
Photos on social media showed the White House with nearly all its exterior lights out. Although it’s unclear why the administration turned the lights off, the dark building stood in stark contrast to the fires burning around the city. It also symbolized a response to what was happening outside the White House gates, as protesters continued to mourn the death of George Floyd, a black man killed last week by a police officer who pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee.
It was also reported Sunday that the president took shelter in the White House bunker on Friday as crowds gathered outside the White House that evening to protest against police violence toward the black community. The peaceful gatherings took a turn after dark as protesters clashed with law enforcement and lit fires near the building.
Rattled by the escalating tension outside the gates, the Secret Service briefly took Trump to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, an underground bunker that is used to shelter presidents during threatening situations, on Friday for nearly an hour, according to the New York Times. The Associated Press reported that Trump and his family were shaken by the experience and the size of the protests. Although it’s unclear whether first lady Melania and son Barron Trump were also taken to the bunker, security protocol would have required them to be sheltered as well.
In the past, the bunker has been reserved for situations like terrorist attacks: President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had taken shelter in the bunker following the 9/11 attacks.
Hours after the protests dispersed outside the White House on Friday, Trump took to Twitter to lash out against the protesters. After thanking the Secret Service for their protection and saying that he “couldn’t have felt more safe,” he implied that protesters would have been attacked with “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons” if they had set foot inside the White House.
Following his series of tweets, Trump also criticized protesters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, where he celebrated the launch of the SpaceX rocket, according to CNN. He also briefly commented on his support for the police and condemned protesters. These are the most in-depth remarks on the protests he’s given in public so far, outside of blaming the media, antifa, and Democrats.
For many, Trump’s trip to the bunker is representative of his leadership during the protests: Stand back and remain detached from the chaos. Despite the escalating tension, he has yet to formally address the nation.
By hiding from protesters, Trump is also going against the macho persona he’s cultivated during his coronavirus response. Although he may have projected an image of being too masculine to wear a mask in public, he hasn’t shied away from staying behind the doors of the White House as unrest swelled outside.