Yesterday continued in the same pattern as the prior weekend. Massive peaceful protests by day, with some looting and violence as it got dark. All over the country.
But the story of the day — perhaps even the year — happened in the late afternoon in D.C.
In the span of 20 minutes, President Donald Trump manufactured a moment meant to showcase two qualities he’s never really displayed: physical courage and religious feeling.
Americans have seen little of Trump in recent days as protests over the killing of George Floyd have erupted in the nation’s cities. A president who’s cultivated a tough-guy image seemed to be intimidated, cowering inside the White House compound.
Unhappy with that narrative, Trump tried to swap in another. He wanted to signal to his core voters that he’d protect their values and keep them safe. He wanted to be seen as strong, ruthless, and pious. And he was willing to deploy the federal government’s firepower to make it happen. He also included a deliberate mention of “Second Amendment rights” that was a clear signal to every Trump supporter who has been waiting for the call to unlimber their AR-15.
So he commandeered the nation’s attention with the choreographed precision of a onetime TV showman. Late in the afternoon, Trump tweeted that he’d be making a public statement.
Minutes before he began, police converged on the peaceful protesters massed outside Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, pumping tear gas at them and pushing them back with an imposing line of officers on horseback. Nothing the crowd had done provoked the show of force, but the reason for it soon became evident.
Trump strode to a Rose Garden lectern set against a backdrop of four flags. Between explosions audible on news broadcasts, Trump proclaimed himself the president of “law and order,” calling on mayors and governors to use decisive force to defend residents and announcing he’d deploy the military to assist. He vowed to keep Americans safe while showing respect for “the righteous cries of peaceful protesters.”
Trump: “I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters, but in recent days our nation has been gripped by professional anarchists, looters, criminals antifa and others.” pic.twitter.com/e2e9d1eX48— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) June 1, 2020
But the speech was just part of the spectacle. After he finished, he said he wanted to pay homage to a “very special place.” He left the White House’s north entrance and headed on foot toward St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged by a fire set the previous night. He passed the park and crossed H Street, as the noxious gas caused some in his entourage to gasp.
The peaceful protesters whose rights Trump had championed just minutes earlier had stood in the way of his walk. For that, they became a casualty of what Trump may hope will be the enduring photo op of his presidency.
“I imposed a curfew at 7 p.m.,” Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser tweeted afterward. “A full 25 minutes before the curfew & [without] provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protesters in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of [city police] officers more difficult. Shameful!”
Trump’s stop at the church was brief, but suited his purpose. Arriving outside, the president stood straight and held up a Bible. “Greatest country in the world,” he said. Photographers took pictures; cable news covered it live. Perhaps voters would see him as a president in command, reclaiming streets that had been flooded with protesters minutes before.
Make no mistake: Trump caused 11 separate police agencies, including the U.S. military, to fire on peaceful demonstrators so that he could use the Bible as a prop in a photo-op.
Because much of the media was setting up in the Rose Garden for the Trump speech, they weren’t there to record the police tear-gassing and police violence. But this Australian TV crew was there, and caught it live.
Here’s how this scene was viewed live in Australia. One of America’s closest and most dependable allies. Rendered speechless. Just watch. pic.twitter.com/IjOzgs3WYo— Brett McGurk (@brett_mcgurk) June 2, 2020
Australia has asked its embassy in the United States to register its concerns with authorities there about an apparent police assault on an Australian cameraman during a protest in Washington, its foreign minister said.
Among those also unhappy, the bishop of the DC church.
As one of those priests, Rev. Gini Gerbasi, recounts, “I am deeply shaken. … I am shaken not so much by the taste of tear gas and the bit of cough I still have, but by the fact the show of force was for a photo opportunity. The patio of St. John’s, Lafayette Square, had been holy ground today. But that man turned it into a battle ground first, and a political stunt second. I am deeply offended …”
Just an unbelievable use of military and police force to clear out Lafayette Park of protesters for a photo op at St John’s Episcopal Church. pic.twitter.com/ue7eCb6ZEM— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) June 1, 2020
Trump accompanied by Stephen Miller, Derek Lyons, Keith Kellogg, Mark Meadows, Tony Ornato, Pat Cipollone, Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, Nick Luna, Bill Barr, Mark Esper, Kayleigh McEnany, Alyssa Farrah, Jared Kushner and (in a mask) Ivanka Trump. #DCProtest pic.twitter.com/QUAQz8KGd0— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) June 1, 2020
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the nation’s most prominent black GOP official, tells @politico “If your question is, Should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo opp, the answer is no.”— Amber Phillips (@byamberphillips) June 2, 2020
Tonight the President of the United States used the American military to shoot peaceful protestors with rubber bullets & tear gas them.— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) June 2, 2020
For a photo op.
This is a horrifying use of presidential power against our own citizens, & has no place anywhere, let alone in America. Vote.
Governors aren’t impressed either:
Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) gets emotional when talking about Trump’s calls to “dominate” protesters: “When the country needed compassion … it was simply nowhere to be found.” pic.twitter.com/M9LIzdgPUj— The Recount (@therecount) June 1, 2020
.@NYGovCuomo: “The protesters themselves have been making a very valid point: wake up America, we’re killing people based on the color of their skin … POTUS wants to make it a reality TV show of God & country. ‘Call out the military & then I go to church & hold up a Bible.'” pic.twitter.com/czmZR2G1QU— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 1, 2020
.@GovPritzker goes in on Trump: “The man is a racist, a misogynist, a homophobe, a xenophobe. He’s got to go … it’s clear that he doesn’t listen to anyone who tells him the truth … this inflammatory rhetoric is bad for the country … [he] knows no history.” pic.twitter.com/4iVW1gcqbc— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 1, 2020
There was no need to do this before 7 pm when the curfew was set to go — but Trump gave cops a test, and they passed.
What’s amazing to me about this video is that it was posted almost 24 hours ago from the moment I wrote this, and it has only 44,700 likes.
This morning, Joe Biden addressed the nation with a very very fine speech:
“When peaceful protestors are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people’s house, the White House, using tear gas and flash grenades in order to stage a photo op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle,” Biden said.
And the former vice president slammed Trump for using the bible and constitution as props while ignoring their messages.
“The president held up the bible. I just wish he’d open it once in a while,” Biden said. “In addition to the bible, the president might also want to open the U.S. constitution once in a while. If he did, he’d find a thing called the First Amendment.”
He urged Congress to pass legislation that would ban chokeholds, halt the transfer of military weapons to police departments, and create a “model” use-of-force standard for police across the country.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was one of those who accompanied Trump. Why was he dressed in battle fatigues? Ha ha, that’s a funny story:
A senior defense official indicates [Secretary of Defense Mark Esper] and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Milley didn’t plan to accompany Donald Trump on his walk across Lafayette Park for a photo op outside St. John’s Church yesterday. They had left the Pentagon and were en route to the FBI field office to work with the director and AG “to observe and provide leadership.” After they left, the White House requested they redirect there to update Trump.
While they were there, as that meeting concluded, the president indicated an interest in viewing the troops that were outside. And the secretary and chairman went with him to do so. That’s the extent of what was taking place and at that point they were part of the group that was with the president as he continued through LaFayette Park.
So (a) Trump tricked them into coming to the White House, (b) Trump lied to them about viewing “the troops,” and (c) they fell for it and accompanied Trump all the way to the church even though no troops were there to inspect.
Meanwhile, Trump is posing this morning for yet another religiously-themed photo op at the John Paul II shrine despite the fact that the Archbishop of Washington basically told him to go to hell:
I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree. Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace.
Needless to say, Trump doesn’t care. He went to the shrine, CNN followed along dutifully, and he got his photo op for use in the fall campaign.
The Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer in the country, the leader of an agency meant to protect Americans' constitutional rights.— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) June 2, 2020
Barr betrayed that mission by ordering the violent and systematic violation of peaceful protesters' rights. He should resign. https://t.co/aYAdggfClL
UPDATE: Trump tries to appeal to the people he wants to oppress…