The Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., denounced Trump’s visit to his church for a photo op with a Bible.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Moments after saying that he stood with peaceful protesters on Monday, police under federal command tear gassed peaceful demonstrators so President Donald Trump could walk from the White House to a nearby church and pose with a Bible.
In his speech in the Rose Garden Monday, Trump threatened the nation’s governors that he would deploy the military to states if they did not stamp out violent protests over police brutality that have roiled the nation for a week.
Trump’s bellicose rhetoric came as the nation convulsed in another round of violence over the death of George Floyd as the country is already buckling under the coronavirus pandemic and Depression-level unemployment. Trump demanded an end to the heated protests in remarks from the Rose Garden and vowed to use more force to achieve that aim.
If governors throughout the country do not deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to “dominate the streets,” Trump said the U.S. military would step in to “quickly solve the problem for them.”
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington sharply criticized Trump for his staged visit to the historic St. John’s Church across from the White House.
The Rev. Mariann Budde, to whose diocese St. John’s belongs , said Monday night that she was “outraged” by Trump’s visit and that he didn’t pray while stopping by the church, a landmark known for its regular visits from sitting presidents since the early 19th century.
“He took the symbols sacred to our tradition and stood in front of a house of prayer in full expectation that would be a celebratory moment,” Budde said in an interview after her statement on Trump’s visit was posted to the diocese’s Twitter account. “There was nothing I could do but speak out against that,” she said.
A military deployment by Trump to states would be a stunning federal intervention rarely seen in modern U.S. history. Yet the message Trump sent with the brazen pushback of protesters outside the White House was that he sees few limits to what he is willing to do.
Some around him likened the moment to 1968, when Richard Nixon ran as the law-and-order candidate after a summer of riots, and captured the White House. But despite his efforts to portray himself as a political outsider, Trump is an incumbent who risks being held responsible for the violence.
Minutes before Trump began speaking, police and National Guard soldiers began aggressively forcing back hundreds of peaceful protesters who had gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, where they were chanting against police brutality and Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. As Trump spoke, tear gas canisters could be heard exploding.
Floyd died last week when he was pinned to the pavement by a police officer who put his knee on the handcuffed black man’s neck for more than 8 minutes until he stopped breathing. His death set off protests that spread from Minneapolis across America. His brother Terrence pleaded with protesters on Monday to remain peaceful.
Five months before Election Day, Trump made clear that he would stake his reelection efforts on persuading voters that his strong-arm approach was warranted to quell the most intense civil unrest since the 1960s. He made little effort to address the grievances of black Americans and others outraged by Floyd’s death and the scourge of police brutality, undermining his campaign.
The scene in and around the White House on Monday night appeared to be carefully orchestrated. As the crowd of protesters grew, Attorney General William Barr arrived in Lafayette Park to look at the demonstrations and the swarm of law enforcement.
The sudden shift in tactics against the protesters was initially a mystery. Then, after finishing his Rose Garden remarks, Trump emerged from the White House gates and walked through the park to St. John’s Church, where an office had been set on fire the previous night.
Trump, who rarely attends church, held up a Bible and gathered a group of advisers — all white — to pose for photos.
The moment was quickly decried by Trump’s critics, with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying the president “used the military to push out a peaceful protest so he could have a photo op at a church.”
“It’s all just a reality TV show for this president,” Cuomo said on Twitter. “Shameful.”
Federal law permits presidents to dispatch the military into states to suppress an insurrection or if a state is defying federal law, legal experts said. But Trump’s statements set up an immediate conflict with officials in New York and other states who said the president does not have the right to send in troops against the will of local governments.
The country has been beset by angry demonstrations for the past week in some of the most widespread racial unrest since the 1960s. Spurred largely by Floyd’s death, protesters have taken to the streets to decry the killings of black people by police. Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with murder, but protesters are demanding that three of his colleagues be prosecuted, too. All four were fired.
While most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, others have descended into violence, leaving neighborhoods in shambles, stores ransacked, windows broken and cars burned, despite curfews around the country and the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops in at least 15 states.
On Monday, demonstrations erupted from Philadelphia, where hundreds of protesters spilled onto a highway in the heart of the city, to Atlanta, where police fired tear gas at demonstrators, to Nashville, where more than 60 National Guard soldiers put down their riot shields at the request of peaceful protesters who had gathered in front of Tennessee’s state Capitol to honor Floyd. Two people were killed during protests in the Chicago suburb Cicero, authorities said, but provided no details. In Louisville, Kentucky, riot police firing tear gas scattered several hundred protesters from downtown, violently capping a day of mostly peaceful protests.
A vehicle plowed through a group of law enforcement officers at a demonstration in Buffalo, New York, injuring at least two. Video from the scene showed the vehicle accelerating through an intersection shortly after officers tackled a protester and handcuffed him. The officers were hospitalized in stable condition, authorities said.
In New York City, where nightfall has brought widespread scenes of destruction, large crowds rallied peacefully in Times Square and Brooklyn during the day. Then in early evening, looters rushed into a Nike store in Manhattan and protesters smashed storefront windows near Rockefeller Center. Video posted on social media showed some protesters arguing with people breaking windows, urging them to stop.
The city already has endured immense commercial damage from the unrest. On Monday, rioters got through the doors of the city’s flagship Macy’s store, famous for its Thanksgiving Day parade, and police pulled at least two handcuffed men out of the store and put them into a van. By that time, the street was littered with broken glass.
In Washington, protesters continued marching peacefully through Washington hours after being forced from Lafayette park and past the 7 p.m. curfew.
Eventually, within sight of the Capitol building, the marchers were turned back by law enforcement officers using tear gas, pellets and low-flying helicopters kicking up debris. As they dispersed, some protesters smashed windows at a nearby office building.
Earlier Monday, Trump told the nation’s governors in a video conference that they “look like fools” for not deploying even more National Guard troops. “Most of you are weak,” he said.
He added: “You’ve got to arrest people, you have to track people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.”
Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, dismissed Trump’s comments as the “rantings of an insecure man trying to look strong after building his entire political career on racism.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, vowed to address institutional racism in his first 100 days in office. He met in person with black leaders in Delaware and also held a virtual meeting with big-city mayors.
Biden said hate emerges “when you have somebody in power who breathes oxygen into the hate.”
In Minneapolis, Floyd’s brother Terrence made an emotional plea for peace at the site where Floyd was arrested and killed.
“Let’s switch it up, y’all. Let’s switch it up. Do this peacefully, please,” Terrence Floyd said as he urged people to use their power at the ballot box.
Also Monday, an autopsy commissioned for Floyd’s family found that he died of asphyxiation from neck and back compression, the family’s attorneys said.
Authorities in some cities have blamed the violence on outside agitators, though have provided little evidence to back that up.
But on Monday, federal authorities arrested a 28-year-old Illinois man saying he had posted self-recorded video on his Facebook page last week that showed him in Minneapolis handing out explosive devices and encouraging people to throw them at law enforcement officers.
More than 5,600 people nationwide have been arrested over the past week for such offenses as stealing, blocking highways and breaking curfew, according to a count by The Associated Press.
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, TIM SULLIVAN and AARON MORRISON