The U.S. Park Police claimed Tuesday that its officers acted to clear protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House because some demonstrators were throwing projectiles at them, but journalists who were on the scene say that they did not see such conduct.
The Park Police statement came in response to widespread criticism that they used flash grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to clear peaceful demonstrators. Once the area was secured, President Donald Trump walked from the White House for about a block across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church, where he held a Bible in a photo op.
“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,” U.S. Park Police Acting Chief Gregory Monahan said in a statement (read it in full below). “No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park. Subsequently, the fence was installed.”
He added: “Intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street.”
CNN’s Alex Marquardt, who reported on the dramatic scene Monday evening, said that he and his crew “didn’t see projectiles thrown at police. Certainly no bricks or ‘caustic liquids.'”
NBC News’ Garrett Haake, who also was there, wrote on Twitter earlier Tuesday that “there was no object-throwing before the mounted park police moved in.”
Jonathan Allen, senior political analyst for NBCNews.com, also was there and wrote in an essay Tuesday that “no one was threatening the police. It was an entirely peaceful protest, the kind that occurs in Washington without incident, seemingly every day.”
The Trump campaign has called on media outlets to retract their reporting on the incident, as spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement that “we now know through U.S. Park Police that neither they, nor any of their law enforcement partners, used tear gas to quell rising violence. We also know that police discovered stashes of weapons like glass bottles, baseball bats, and metal poles hidden nearby, which are indeed strange items to have on hand for a ‘peaceful’ protest. Every news organization which reported the tear gas lie should immediately correct or retract its erroneous reporting.”
Yet even if it was solely a pepper agent that was used, the effect is similar to that of tear gas. They are both non-lethal irritants that create watering and burning of the eyes. Both are used to disburse crowds, and sometimes used interchangeably, but they have different chemical ingredients.
A Justice Department official told reporters on Tuesday that Attorney General William Barr ordered that the crowd be cleared when he visited the scene just before 6 p.m., according to CNN.
Here is U.S. Park Police Acting Chief Gregory Monahan’s full statement:
The United States Park Police (USPP) is committed to the peaceful expression of First Amendment rights. However, this past weekend’s demonstrations at Lafayette Park and across the National Mall included activities that were not part of a peaceful protest, which resulted in injuries to USPP officers in the line of duty, the destruction of public property and the defacing of memorials and monuments. During four days of demonstrations, 51 members of the USPP were injured; of those, 11 were transported to the hospital and released and three were admitted.
Multiple agencies assisted the USPP in responding to and quelling the acts of destruction and violence over the course of the weekend in order to protect citizens and property.
On Monday, June 1, the USPP worked with the United States Secret Service to have temporary fencing installed inside Lafayette Park. At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids. The protestors also climbed onto a historic building at the north end of Lafayette Park that was destroyed by arson days prior. Intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street.
To curtail the violence that was underway, the USPP, following established policy, issued three warnings over a loudspeaker to alert demonstrators on H Street to evacuate the area. Horse mounted patrol, Civil Disturbance Units and additional personnel were used to clear the area. As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park. Subsequently, the fence was installed.
Throughout the demonstrations, the USPP has not made any arrests. 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.