The Secret Service asserted Thursday that “no agency personnel” used tear gas or capsicum spray during the clearing of Lafayette Park earlier this week before President Trump visited St. John’s Church.
“The Secret Service has determined that no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray during its efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park on Monday, June 1st, 2020,” a Secret Service spokesperson said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Park Police (USPP) denied using tear gas to clear away protesters in the park, after reports that they used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear mostly peaceful protesters.
In a statement released Tuesday by the USPP, the law enforcement agency said “no tear gas was used” when clearing a large group of protestors from the area. The USPP said it took the steps “to curtail the violence that was underway,” pushing back against claims that the protest was entirely peaceful.
“At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids,” the USPP said in a statement. “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.”
Still, the Park Police acknowledged using smoke canisters and pepper balls on the protesters.
“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 when protestors did scatter from the area,” the statement said.
The move by the USPP came shortly after Attorney General William Barr observed the scene at Lafayette Park across from the White House, where several thousand protesters had gathered for more demonstrations after the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
Soon afterward — and just as Trump was about to address the media in the Rose Garden — law enforcement officers aggressively forced the protesters back, firing what at the time was reported to be tear gas and deploying flashbangs into the crowd to disperse them from the park for seemingly no reason. It was a jarring scene as police in the nation’s capital forcefully cleared young men and women gathering legally in a public park on a sunny evening, all of it on live television.
With smoke still wafting and isolated tussles continuing in the crowd, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden for a dramatic split-screen of his own creation.
“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters,” he said, before demanding that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.” And he warned that, if they refused, he would deploy the United States military “and quickly solve the problem for them.”
As an additional show of force, Trump announced he was deploying even more of the military to Washington, D.C., giving it the feel of an armed, locked-down city after days of at-times violent clashes, arson and looting.
Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she never requested help from neighboring jurisdictions to quell demonstrations and added that D.C. officials flatly rejected a proposal floated by the Trump administration to take over the local police department, and threatened legal action if they did.
The federal government has deployed law enforcement officials from numerous agencies, and National Guard troops from a number of states have been sent to the District of Columbia. Barr is directing the federal law enforcement response in the city.