Pence Speech to Involve Veterans in Rebuttal to Athlete Protests

Vice President Mike Pence’s speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday will involve combat veterans in a display of patriotism — imagery intended at least in part as criticism of professional athletes who kneel during the national anthem.

The scene, to be staged at historic Fort McHenry in Baltimore, according to people familiar with the matter, may be cited by Democrats as another example of President Donald Trump’s efforts to use the country’s cultural and racial divisions for political gain.

The people asked not to be identified because the involvement of the veterans is intended as a surprise for viewers. Trump’s campaign said that the theme of tonight’s program is titled “Land of Heroes” and that it will honor active-duty military members and veterans, as well as law enforcement.

Pence will deliver the keynote address on the convention’s third night, a spotlight moment before a national television audience for a vice president believed to have White House ambitions of his own. Trump has made appearances in each of the first two nights of the convention.

Trump and Pence have each denounced professional athletes — mainly Black football players — who kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. Pence said he left anIndianapolis Colts game early in 2017 because some players kneeled during the anthem, and Trump has urged NFL owners to bench or fire players who protest, at one point referring to them as “son of a bitch.”

The National Football League initially discouraged the protests, adopting a policy in 2018 that players who didn’t want to stand during the anthem should stay in the locker room. But like many corporations, the league has moved rapidly to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued an apology in June “for not listening to NFL players earlier” and encouraged future peaceful protests.

Floyd’s death sparked rolling protests and unrest across the country. The latest episode has erupted this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after a video appeared to show police shooting an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, in the back.

“It’s a horrific scene that plays out in that videotape. I know that the president has been briefed a number of times on it and I believe they are still in contact with local authorities and still in fact-finding mode,” Tim Murtaugh, a Trump campaign spokesman said.

Murtaugh said that the Blake family has called for peaceful protests. He said that the president supports the First Amendment, giving people the right to peaceably protest, but “where the president has drawn the line is when those peaceful protests have crossed the line, he believes many times with the aid of outside groups such as Antifa, and that erupts in violence.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign has urged protesters in Kenosha to remain peaceful, denouncing the violence around the demonstrations.

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