News & Politics

Were Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed So Trump Could Do a Photo-Op? U.S. Park Police Say No

President Donald Trump walks from the White House through Lafayette Park to visit St. John's Church Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

By now you’ve heard a number of reports claiming that tear gas was used against “peaceful protesters” to clear the area around the White House so that President Trump could “get his photo op” at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been burned in the riots the night before. Trump had just told the country he would restore the rule of law, which the left and the media think is just a dog-whistle for fascism, and set out to turn his symbolic act of walking through Lafayette Park to the church and holding up a Bible into a Trump-is-literally-Hitler moment. In fact, a doctored photo of Hitler holding a Bible the same way Trump did had gone viral even though it was completely fabricated.

After protesters were moved from the area, the narrative quickly spread that “peaceful” protesters were tear-gassed in order to get them to move.

Reuters claims the following video shows U.S. Park Police (USPP) using tear gas on protesters:

The police aren’t even wearing gas masks. All major media outlets nevertheless reported that tear gas was used, without provocation, against peaceful protesters.

NPR claimed, “The plaza between St. John’s Church and Lafayette Park was full of people nonviolently protesting police brutality late Monday afternoon when U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops, with the use of tear gas, suddenly started pushing them away for no apparent reason.” The only photo they show of police gathering to remove protesters once again shows none are wearing gas masks, which would seem necessary to protect themselves from tear gas.

The New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC News, and many other outlets, reporters, and pundits peddled the claim that peaceful protesters were tear-gassed without provocation to clear the area for Trump. Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden also chimed in, repeating the claim.

But United States Park Police acting Chief Gregory T. Monahan said the following in a 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.

According to the USPP, there were acts of violence by the protesters, which means they weren’t peaceful. Peaceful protests don’t result in the destruction of property, vandalism, or USPP officers being injured.

Unfortunately, the media jumped on the story, allowing it to spread before the facts came out. Photos should have made it clear that traditional tear gas was not used because photos and video of law enforcement show most are simply wearing face guards, which would not protect them from tear gas. Rather, they used pepper balls and smoke canisters.

Further, using traditional tear gas, a powerful chemical irritant, in an area that the president of the United States would soon be walking through doesn’t make a lot of sense now, does it?

“It’s said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump 2020 communications director in response to the USPP statement. “This tear gas lie is proof of that. For nearly an entire day, the whole of the press corps frantically reported the ‘news’ of a tear gas attack on ‘peaceful’ protestors in Lafayette Park, with no evidence to support such claims. We now know through the U.S. Park Police that neither they, nor any of their law enforcement partners, used tear gas to quell rising violence.”

But the Washington Post disputes the notion that tear gas wasn’t used:

The truth boils down to an exercise in semantics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Riot control agents (sometimes referred to as “tear gas”) are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.”

And, according to the CDC, “several different compounds” fall under this definition, and are employed by security forces, including military and police, in riot control situations.
Among others, they include chloroacetophenone (CN), more commonly referred to as “mace,” or pepper sprays — in other words, the compound that was deployed in Lafayette Square — and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS), “one of the most commonly used tear gases in the world,” according to an article in the British Medical Journal.

But as Neal Augenstein of WTOP radio in Washington D.C. noted, smoke canisters, which the USPP acknowledges were deployed, “don’t have an uncomfortable irritant in them.”

The USPP did acknowledge that pepper balls were used after protesters started throwing projectiles, and those do have a chemical irritant in them. A senior defense official also said that National Guard troops who assisted in clearing the protesters did not have tear gas or rubber bullets. “The National Guard forces do not have tear gas, do not have rubber bullets, so they did not do any of the firing,” the official said.

While there is some discussion about whether pepper balls are considered tear gas, it seems indisputable that the protesters were not as peaceful as the media wants to portray them.

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis

This article has been updated to include a discussion on the definition of tear gas and additional comments from the Pentagon.