An independent report last week on last summer’s violent crackdown on protesters at Washington’s Lafayette Park gives a misleading and inaccurate portrayal of events culminating in President Donald Trump’s silly photo-op outside an adjacent church. The National Park Service might have a valid claim of innocence for having planned to clear the area well before Trump’s escapade, as an Interior Department inspector general’s report found. But there were plenty of other actors on the scene — ordered up by the Trump administration — with the specific, predetermined mission of using force to clear protesters out so Trump could stand in front of St. John’s Church holding a Bible.
The government action was excessive. The Black Lives Matter protesters were not engaged in violence at the time, although some protesters had previously engaged law enforcers, injuring 49 U.S. Park Police officers. At the time of the confrontation on June 1, 2020, nonviolent protesters were exercising their First Amendment right to express outrage over the police murder, days before, of George Floyd in Minneapolis. They were actually moving away from the park when law enforcers other than U.S. Park Service police deployed chemical irritants against them.
Unfortunately, Trump interpreted the inspector general’s report as “Completely and Totally exonerating” him. The report was anything but an exoneration. Trump, hardly a religious man, had absolutely no need, other than his own political promotion, to stand in front of St. John’s Church that day. The Bible he used was a prop.
Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt limited the investigation to the decision-making and actions of the Park Police, exclusive of other agencies deployed outside the park, including the National Guard, Secret Service and District of Columbia police. Central command authority rested with the Secret Service, which was fully informed of Trump’s plans.
Because dozens of Park Police officers had been injured during previous days’ confrontations with protesters, they had obtained permission to clear the park and erect tall fencing around it to keep protesters out.
“The evidence showed that the USPP [Park Police] did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1 — hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park,” the report said. If Park Police were at fault, the report said, it was for failing to use adequately loud sound equipment so protesters could hear orders to clear the area. When they didn’t move, Trump’s forces advanced on them as a National Guard helicopter hovered low overhead.
There were plenty of other egregious missteps by commanders and personnel on the ground that needlessly turned a loud but orderly protest into a street battle — all so Trump could stage a buffoonish attempt at self-glorification.