Authorities did not use tear gas in efforts to hold back protesters, some of whom were violent, at Lafayette Park ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church on Monday, according to the United States Park Police’s (USPP) acting chief.
“No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park,” Gregory Monahan said in a statement released on Tuesday. Monahan’s account contradicts media reports from the day that said tear gas was used to dispel demonstrators prior to Trump’s trip to the church, which was damaged by arsonists amid late-night protests on Sunday.
The USPP was working with the Secret Service to install temporary fencing inside Lafayette Park on Monday, ahead of a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew imposed by Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.
At 6:33 p.m. violent protesters on H Street NW started to throw “projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles, and caustic liquid,” Monahan said. “The protesters also climbed onto a historic building at the north end of Lafayette Park that was destroyed by arson days prior.”
Officers found “caches of glass bottles, baseball bats, and metal poles hidden along the street,” and that “intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police,” Monahan added. To stop the violence, the USPP followed “established policy” and issued three warnings over a loudspeaker telling the demonstrators on H Street to leave the area, Monahan said.
“Horse mounted patrol, Civil Disturbance Units, and additional personnel were used to clear the area,” the USPP acting chief continued. “As many of the protesters became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls.”
After the area was closed at the park—with no use of tear gas—a temporary fence was installed in the area, Monahan said. The USPP did not make any arrests throughout the demonstrations.
“The USPP will always support peaceful assembly but cannot tolerate violence to citizens or officers or damage to our nation’s resources that we are entrusted to protect,” he said.
Trump Did Not Make Decision on Clearing Protesters
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters on Tuesday that, “There was a plan to expand the perimeter from H Street to I Street based on the events as they had unfolded the night before.” Conway also said that Trump was not the one to make the decision on how to secure his movement to the church. “Clearly the president doesn’t know how law enforcement is handling his movements,” she said.
Demonstrations over four days prior to Monday in Lafayette Park and across the National Mall had “included activities that were not part of a peaceful protest” which caused 51 USPP officers to suffer injuries—11 of whom were taken to the hospital and released, and three of whom were admitted, the USPP statement read. Memorials and monuments were defaced and public property was also destroyed.
Multiple media outlets characterized Trump’s visit to the church as a “photo opportunity.” Conway dismissed the characterization on Tuesday.
“I think the words ‘photo-op’ itself—you’re looking in somebody’s heart and wondering and second-guessing why they would go over there,” she said.
“Is it a photo-op because a photo was taken while the president of the United States was in front of a church where we went on Inauguration Day where every president has gone for more than two centuries?” Conway asked. “I think that itself is a mischaracterization, I know it ended up being the ‘Sesame Street’ Grover word of the day. But that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make it true.”
“Again I’m going to say—different faith leaders, anybody, frankly, let’s say somebody who’s an atheist calling into question somebody else’s faith I think is a very fraught proposition,” Conway later added. “And this is a president who just now, moments ago, in the Oval office, signed an executive order on religious liberty for the entire world.
“That builds on his work last September, the United Nations General Assembly, where President Trump became the first president in American history to address the United Nations General Assembly thusly that way on international religious freedom.”
President Trump had departed the White House at 7:01 p.m. on Monday and made his way toward St. John’s Church, after having announced that he was deploying military personnel and other federal assets to quell violent riots in Washington.
Trump walked through Lafayette Park and onto H Street, which had been filled with protesters less an an hour earlier. The president then stood in front of the the 204-year-old church and held up a bible.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said at the church, where many past presidents have attended services. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
Trump was accompanied by a number of others, including his daughter, Ivanka Trump, White House advisers Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Attorney General William Barr, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Trump entered the White House at 7:18 p.m. after walking back from the church, without taking questions from reporters.