The Slatest

Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed and Beaten Outside White House to Clear Space for a Trump Photo-Op

Protesters raise their hands as Secret Service officers can be seen through smoke on a street.
Secret Service police officers wearing riot gear push back demonstrators outside of the White House on Monday. Jose Luis Magana/Getty Images

Around 6:44 p.m. EST on Monday, 16 minutes before D.C.’s curfew was set to begin, President Donald Trump took the dais in the Rose Garden as flash-bangs went off in the background. The president, after offering a few perfunctory words about how he promised to get to the bottom of the George Floyd killing, got to the point: It was time to return to “law and order.”

“As we speak,” Trump said, “I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property” in the nation’s capital.

What the police he had dispatched were doing was clearing the area around Lafayette Park, just outside the White House, of the crowds of people who were protesting peacefully there, first through the use of flash-bangs and tear gas, then by clubbing them and battering them with riot shields.

“Thank you very much,” Trump concluded his remarks, “and now I’m going to pay my respects to a very, very special place.”

The president had decided he wanted to take a stroll to St. John’s, the historic Episcopal church just by the White House that had caught fire in Sunday night’s protests. One way to put this is that the police had dispersed a peaceful protest so the president could safely visit St. John’s. Another is that the president visited St. John’s so that the police could disperse a peaceful protest. A CNN White House correspondent reported that he had chosen to do this because he was angry and embarrassed about coverage of his retreat to the White House bunker during Friday’s protest.

The president, joined by Mark Meadows, Bill Barr, Kayleigh McEnany, Mark Esper, and other officials, strolled out of the White House for a short, heavily secured walk to St. John’s. (“Remnants of gas has your pooler and other[s] coughing and choking,” the White House press pool report read.) When he got in front of the church, Trump was given a Bible. What does one do with a Bible? Trump perhaps thought. He landed on … this.

Why not bring in the whole crew?

“Greatest country in the world,” Trump said during the photo-op, as helicopters swirled and all varieties of police chased protesters farther away.