Attorney General William Barr personally observed throngs of demonstrators from a position in Lafayette Park near the White House on Monday, just prior to accompanying President Donald Trump on a now-controversial walk across the street to historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been set on fire by rioters the night before, according to the Washington Examiner.
Barr has been continuously monitoring the escalating protests as the top law enforcement officer in the country, and he has urged governors along with Trump to bring the violence and destruction under control.
Reports have been circulating about the tactics allegedly used to clear “peaceful” protesters from the area before Trump’s photo-op at the church, with nearly every mainstream news outlet claiming that the U.S. Park Police used tear gas to force demonstrators from the area near the church.
The Park Police on Tuesday countered those claims, however, formally denying that such an agent was used to disperse the crowd, according to Fox News.
Controversy surrounds walkabout
The protesters were not cleared to make way for Trump, Barr, and other officials who accompanied them on the walk, but instead were moved because demonstrators had been throwing projectiles at law enforcement officers “including bricks, frozen water bottles, and caustic liquids,” Fox News noted. According to the Park Police, tear gas was not used on the crowds, though smoke bombs and pepper balls were deployed.
“For nearly an entire day, the whole of the press corps frantically reported the ‘news’ of a tear gas attack on ‘peaceful’ protestors in Lafayette Park, with no evidence to support such claims,” Trump 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh said of the controversy. “We now know through the U.S. Park Police that neither they, nor any of their law enforcement partners, used tear gas to quell rising violence.”
It was reported by The New York Times that Barr himself gave the order for the protesters to be cleared, though according to the Washington Examiner, law enforcement sources explained that the order to expand the safety perimeter surrounding Lafayette Park was made late Sunday or early Monday, and when Barr saw late on Monday that the job had not yet been done, he called for immediate action.
Debate over response continues
According to The Hill, some, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), have urged Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act and use federal troops to quell the violent riots, but he has not yet done so. Others in his administrations, such as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, have come out against the idea of using the military for law enforcement purposes on American soil at this time, as USA Today reported.
Esper, a veteran of the National Guard, said he prefers such units to be in this situation as opposed to active-duty military, because they are better suited to deployment here at home, according to The Hill.
At least 17,000 National Guard troops have been deployed to 23 states to help restore order since rioting began, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Combatting the narrative
In an attempt to combat other aspects of the mainstream media narrative surrounding the chaos gripping the country, Trump denied on Wednesday that he was taken to a bunker beneath the White House over the weekend when rioting was taking place in the immediate vicinity.
Rather, Trump asserted that he visited the bunker Friday to inspect it during the day, when protests in the area remained peaceful, according to CBS News.