Protesters Attempt to Set Up ‘Black House Autonomous Zone’ Near White House

June 23, 2020 Updated: June 23, 2020

Police clashed with protesters outside the White House on Monday night as they attempted to build a “Black House Autonomous Zone,” in an apparent reference to Seattle’s “occupied” protest zone that was established earlier this month.

Hundreds of demonstrators at Lafayette Park gathered to seal off an area with barricades to mark the zone, while others attempted to topple a statue of former U.S. President Andrew Jackson before they were dispersed by police. It is unclear how large of an area demonstrators blocked off on Monday.

Rioters vandalized the pillars of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, often referred to as the Church of the Presidents, with black spray-paint spelling out the letters “BHAZ”—an acronym for “Black House Autonomous Zone.”

The church, which sits across the street from Lafayette Square, was previously damaged by rioters the night before President Donald Trump walked with officials to the church on June 1 for a photograph, which “sparked a national debate.”

Police later established a security perimeter around the rioters at St. John’s Church, according to video footage from a Daily Caller reporter at the scene.

The equestrian statue of former U.S. President General Andrew Jackson has ropes and chains still hanging
The equestrian statue of former U.S. President General Andrew Jackson has ropes and chains still hanging after protesters tried to topple it, at Lafayette square in front of the White House, in Washington on June 22, 2020. (Eris Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

Members of the press were ordered by the Secret Service to immediately leave the White House grounds as chaos ensued, CNN reported.

Police officers moved in to help move vandals and surrounding crowds away from the statue and disperse them out of Lafayette Square, WUSA-TV in Washington reported.

The statue depicts Jackson, the seventh President of the United States, on a rearing horse. It remains mounted on its pedestal, however the wooden wheels of four replica canons at its base were damaged, according to The Washington Post.

By the early hours of Tuesday morning, groups of protesters began to pitch tents along a block on Washington’s H Street, according to a WTOP FM reporter at the scene. Groups of demonstrators remained on the streets chanting “defund the police,” while others could be seen sitting on barricades established on one side of H Street & Vermont near the White House.

The president condemned the vandalism against the church on Monday night, threatening lengthy prison sentences for those who target historic sites.

“Numerous people arrested in D.C. for the disgraceful vandalism, in Lafayette Park, of the magnificent Statue of Andrew Jackson, in addition to the exterior defacing of St. John’s Church across the street. 10 years in prison under the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act. Beware!” he wrote in a Twitter post.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who was at the scene Monday night, echoed Trump’s warning on Twitter Monday night, praising law enforcement and denouncing the attempted act of desecration by “anarchists.”

“I just left Lafayette Square where another so called ‘peaceful protest’ led to destruction tonight,” he wrote. “Let me be clear: we will not bow to anarchists. Law and order will prevail, and justice will be served.”

At least two people were arrested for attempted assault on a police officer.

It comes after Seattle’s mayor said Monday that officials will move to dismantle the the blocks-long span of city streets taken over two weeks ago that Trump asserted is run by “anarchists.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a news conference that the violence was distracting from changes sought by thousands of peaceful protesters seeking to address racial inequity and police brutality. She said the city is working with the community to bring the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest” (CHOP) zone to an end.

“The cumulative impacts of the gatherings and protests and the nighttime atmosphere and violence has led to increasingly difficult circumstances for our businesses and residents,” Durkan said. “The impacts have increased and the safety has decreased.”

A 17-year-old on Sunday night became the second shooting victim in less than 48 hours at the edge of the zone.

Mimi Nguyen Ly and The Associated Press contributed to this report.