Nearly 24 hours after law enforcement used force to push peaceful demonstrators away from the White House to make way for presidential photo op, the US Park Police offered a statement on its involvement — and it raises a lot more questions than it answers.
On Monday, Park Police — along with members of the US Secret Service and the National Guard — dispersed a large crowd of protesters using what reporters and other witnesses on the ground said was tear gas and rubber bullets, harming demonstrators and journalists alike.
Minutes later, President Donald Trump gave a brief speech in the White House Rose Garden then walked through an emptied Lafayette Square to a nearby church to take pictures with a Bible.
Video of the chaotic scene spread quickly on social media and news outlets, sparking outrage. On Tuesday afternoon, the US Park Police (USPP) responded to the criticisms.
“At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids,” acting Chief Gregory Monahan said in the official statement. “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.”
“No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park,” he continued.
To be clear: Monahan is claiming the protesters amassed near the White House were “violent,” that they were perhaps plotting some kind of attack of their own, and that no federal officials whatsoever used tear gas to disperse the demonstration.
But the problem is all the available evidence, from numerous videos taken at the scene to reports from witnesses and journalists who were on the ground at the time, shows otherwise.
Why the Park Police’s statement is dubious
Let’s start with Monahan’s claim that the protesters were “violent” because they were throwing projectiles at law enforcement.
According to multiple reporters who were on the ground documenting the events, the protests were entirely peaceful. “We didn’t see projectiles thrown at police. Certainly no bricks or ‘caustic liquids,’” Alexander Marquardt, a CNN reporter who was at Lafayette Square that evening, tweeted on Tuesday.
In fact, in this Reuters video taken of nearly the entire scene, there are no violent instances of what the Park Police statement describes (other than some expletives and insults lobbed at law enforcement).
Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser also publicly stated that the demonstrators protested peacefully.
It’s unclear, then, what the Park Police is referencing. Perhaps it’s an exaggeration of what an unnamed Justice Department official told the Washington Post on Tuesday: that some crowd members passed rocks among themselves and threw a bottle in the direction of Attorney General Bill Barr. Barr, a top Trump ally, was surveying the scene and reportedly personally ordered law enforcement to push the protesters back.
There’s also no direct evidence that protesters were hiding…