A federal judge dismissed a civil lawsuit Monday that alleged former President Donald Trump and a host of other government officials acted unlawfully when they forcibly cleared Lafayette Square of protesters last summer. A handful of plaintiffs, including the ACLU and Black Lives Matter, alleged in four overlapping suits that Trump and administration officials conspired to violate the First Amendment rights of the anti-police brutality protesters in removing more than 1,000 demonstrators that day so that Trump could stride out Bible in hand for a photo-op in front of nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. In a 51-page ruling, however, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich of Washington threw out the conspiracy claim as “simply too speculative” and ruled that federal defendants—such as Attorney General William Barr and the acting Park Police chief, who were both named in the suit—were immune from civil liability.
Judge Friedrich, a 2017 Trump appointee, “acknowledged claims that Trump tweeted threats and encouragement of violence against protesters, and ordered Barr take charge of the situation before Barr mobilized law enforcement and appeared at the square just before it was cleared,” the Washington Post notes. “The judge also said the square was cleared right before Trump, Barr and Esper’s walk to the church. But these events weren’t enough to allow conspiracy claims to go forward without further, specific factual allegations, Friedrich wrote.”
“Today’s ruling essentially gives the federal government a green light to use violence, including lethal force against demonstrators, as long as federal officials claim to be protecting national security,” legal director for the ACLU of the District of Columbia Scott Michelman said of the decision. The Department of Justice supported the dismissal of the suit. Friedrich did allow the suit’s claims against local police forces in Washington, D.C. and Arlington to proceed because they are not federal agencies and therefore not covered by the federal immunity statute.