And just like that, it never happened. Donald Trump and William Barr never ordered an attack on peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. Mounted federal officers never rode down working journalists and members of the clergy. Heavily armed officers from the Bureau of Prisons and Park Police in riot gear never fired rubber bullets, flash bangs, and tear gas into a chanting crowd and drove them from the area across from the White House generating numerous injuries … all so that Donald Trump could walk across the street, hold a Bible over his head, and conduct a violent, ugly, and utterly disgusting photo op.
Seizing on a report issued on Wednesday by Mark Lee Greenblatt, an inspector general at the Department of the Interior, right-wing media is engaging in a smug round of “I told you so” on Thursday morning, as that report “confirms” that Trump has made from the outset in which he claimed that the square was not violently cleared for the purposes of his self-aggrandizing tough guy march. Instead, says the report, the decision was made two days earlier, to protect the safety of contractors hired to install a new fence. Frustratingly, it’s not just OANN that’s repeating this claim, but ABC News, USA Today, the Chicago Sun Times, and dozens of others.
There’s only one problem with this report. Or two. Or maybe three. Four. There are at least four.
The first of these is that it utterly ignores how Trump appeared in the Rose Garden minutes before the assault began. As he did so, both Barr and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, in full uniform, went to the area directly across from Lafayette Square and were clearly directing the actions of the National Guard and Park Police before and during the assault. Then those same units fell in beside Trump and escorted him for his stroll to St. John's Episcopal Church where he posed for a photo op with and without his entourage while holding a Bible stiffly—and upside down—above his head.
The report is very precise on the timing of events when it comes to clearing the area across from the White House:
The operation began at 6:23 p.m. and was completed by 6:50 p.m. Shortly thereafter, at 7:01 p.m., President Trump walked from the White House through Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church. At 7:30 p.m., the contractor began assembling and installing the antiscale fence and completed the work by approximately 12:30 a.m. on June 2.
According to the report, it’s that second thing—the installation of the fence—that was the whole purpose of clearing the park. And the entire evidence to support this is that “the USPP did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1” while plans to clear the park had been made “hours earlier.” The idea that there could have been plans to clear the park, and that those plans might have been made more urgent and violent by the desire for Trump to make his stroll never seems to have been considered.
In a whistleblower report from September 2020, National Guard Major Adam DeMarco provided sworn testimony that the decision to conduct a violent assault on protesters was a decision in fact made well in advance. Those plans included not just stockpiling tear gas and other “less lethal” weapons, but acquiring 7,000 rounds of ammunition. Planning for the event even included asking for two other weapons: one that that would have attacked the crowd with sound, and the other that would have literally cooked them with a beam of microwaves.
According to the IG report, all of this was done so that protesters could be cleared from the park, a half hour before curfew began, for the benefit of fence contractors. Contractors who were assembling what was just another barrier in a series of barriers that had already been raised. The report does not provide any other examples in which the federal government suggested the use of heat rays or issued live ammunition for constructing a fence.
Another issue with the “they did it for the fence” scenario is that Trump, Barr, and any number of former White House officials already made the claim that the reason the park was cleared so suddenly and forcefully—claims of violence on the part of protesters. Along with claims that the federal police actions were unrelated to the Bible-waving strut, came the explanation that protesters were engaged in violence, specifically that they were hurling objects at officers, and that was why the Bureau of Prisons and Park Police forces rushed in.
That was also the sworn testimony of U.S. Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan, who, as The Washington Post reported last September, said that “violence by protesters spurred his agency to clear the area ahead of the D.C. mayor’s 7 p.m. curfew … with unusually aggressive tactics.”
All these claims of violence are counter to the clear evidence, recorded at the scenes by individuals and news cameras, that showed peaceful protesters chanting in Lafayette Square until the attack takes them by complete surprise. And Monahan’s claim might be easier to believe had not all the audio recordings of Park Police communications that day gone conspicuously missing.
Finally, just two weeks ago, the Department of Justice asked a federal judge to toss a quartet of lawsuits involving Barr’s ordering a violent clearing of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square. Those requests do not mention a fence. What they do mention is that efforts to clear the square were a matter of “presidential safety” and that “Trump and other U.S. officials are immune from civil lawsuits over police actions taken to protect a president and to secure his movements.”
If the action was actually taken to allow the installation of a fence, why is the DOJ arguing, in court, that this was a police action taken “to protect a president and secure his movements?”
- From Major DeMarco’s testimony, it’s clear that National Guard and Park Police forces were told to clear the square no matter what it took—including bringing in live ammunition and seeking weaponry that’s been outlawed on the battlefield.
- From Monahan’s testimony, and the statements of White House officials, including William Barr, it’s clear that the position of the Park Police and Bureau of Prisons forces is that they acted because of “protester violence” that did not actually occur.
- The Department of Justice is engaged in a legal argument that the clearing of Lafayette Square was done specifically to clear the way for Trump.
- No one, not DeMarco, not Monahan, not the DOJ, mentioned anything about protecting fencing contractors anywhere in their sworn testimony.
The Secret Service may well have obtained new fencing on June 1, and may have planned to put it up that evening after the curfew went into effect. But none of that had anything to do with the violence assault that began before the curfew. That assault was clearly directed by Barr, planned well in advance to coordinate with Trump’s Rose Garden appearance, and took place in spite of protesters definitively not being violent.
Another issue for the report. Back in June, 2020 officials from the D.C. Metro Police spoke directly to the issue of whether the square had been cleared for the purposes of building a fence. If that was the plan, they certainly didn’t seem to share it with the people who needed to know the most.
A D.C. Police spokesperson similarly said: ”We knew that they were considering the perimeter expansion, but there was no indication if or when it would happen.”
And: “No one said in the room, ‘We are going to push the perimeter back X amount of feet,’” according to an unnamed defense official. “However, there was discussion about the possibility of having to do that if certain conditions existed.”