US Park Police began violently evacuating protesters from Lafayette Square last month without apparent provocation or adequate warning to protesters, immediately after Attorney General William Barr spoke to park police officials, according to an Army National Guard officer who was there.
Army National Guard Maj.Adam DeMarco’s narrative challenged key aspects of the Trump administration’s explanation for the elimination of the White House protest, just before President Donald Trump crossed the area to organize a photo event in front of a historic site. church.
DeMarco’s account was released as written testimony (PDF) for his scheduled appearance Tuesday before the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on punches, batons and the use of chemical agents by the park police against what appeared to be largely peaceful protesters on June 1. From the protest area outside the White House came at the height of street protests across the country sparked by the murders of George Floyd and other blacks at the hands of police.
“From what I could observe, the protesters were behaving peacefully,” when park police, intelligence and other unidentified forces turned on the crowd, DeMarco wrote. The rout began shortly after Barr and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared in the plaza, where Barr appeared to be speaking with Park Police officials, a he declared.
The legally required warnings to protesters before clearing the square soon after were “barely audible” from 20 meters (18 meters) away and were apparently not heard by protesters, he said.
It’s worth reading Major DeMarco’s conclusion in its entirety: pic.twitter.com/4Og2TeIM7x
– Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) July 27, 2020
Park police and other officers suddenly began cleaning up the crowd without notifying the National Guard forces present, DeMarco said. And a park police liaison officer told DeMarco his forces only used “stage smoke,” not tear gas, against the crowd. DeMarco said the sting to his nose and eyes appeared to be tear gas, and said he found used tear gas canisters on the street later that evening.
The National Park Service, which oversees US park policing, responded on Monday by repeating a statement by park police chief Gregory T Monahan, who said last month his forces had acted to “curb the ongoing violence. “. Park Police, a force of a few hundred officers across the country, oversee a handful of the country’s most iconic federal lands and monuments.
However, videos and accounts from reporters and protesters in the plaza, and now the National Guard officer, challenge the Trump administration’s accounts of protesters attacking security officers and security forces. order at the time. Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly challenged the Trump administration to provide evidence of this.
In the past, the Trump administration has also denied that park police acted to clean up the square before the Trump photo event.
DeMarco said he was the designated liaison at the event for the Home Office Park Police and National Guard and stood near a statue of Andrew Jackson, as Barr and other senior officials involved were gathering.
DeMarco described a quick conversation with Milley, the Pentagon’s top general, at the time in the plaza which DeMarco said gave no warning of the impending push by park police, Secret Service and others against the demonstrators.
“As the senior National Guard officer at the scene at the time, I gave General Milley a brief briefing on our mission and the current situation,” DeMarco wrote. “General Milley told me to make sure the National Guard personnel remain calm, adding that we were there to respect the First Amendment rights of the protesters. ”
Shortly after park police and others chased the fleeing protesters, Milley marched in military fatigues alongside Trump as the Republican president made his way to nearby St John’s Church, where protesters had been accused of starting a fire in the basement of a building the night before. Trump briefly threw a Bible into the air for television cameras.
Milley later apologized for participating, after strong public criticism. Milley said he “shouldn’t have been there” and that his involvement “created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
In his statement to the committee, DeMarco is expected to say that he was “deeply disturbed” by the events of his witnesses in Lafayette Square that evening.
“Having served in a combat zone and having understood how to assess threatening environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protesters or found them violent,” read her written testimony. “I observed that the use of force against demonstrators during the demining operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force.
“From my observation, these protesters – our fellow Americans – have engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet they were subjected to unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force, ”he added.