About 20 minutes before President Donald Trump spoke at the Rose Garden Monday evening, police used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse a peaceful crowd of protesters in Lafayette Square, near the White House. After his speech, Trump walked through the cleared area with administration aides to St. John's Episcopal Church, which was damaged during protests Sunday night. CNN later reported that the scene was a photo-op staged because Trump was not happy with the reports he spent Friday night in the White House bunker during protests of George Floyd's death.
Early Monday, reports surfaced that Trump was underground in the White House bunker while protests took place outside. Then on Sunday night, the administration shut off the floodlights that usually keep the White House lit at all times. Sources told CNN Trump was "upset" with the reports he was in the bunker Friday night. Trump's decision to walk to the church was so hastily arranged that CNN reporters saw Secret Service agents rush up to the rooftop they were reporting from so the agents could get an overhead view of the scene. CNN said there was no prior notice agents would be coming there.
CNN reports that Trump used tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters for a photo op, after being upset about media coverage about him being rushed to a bunker. pic.twitter.com/LN0tA51gjA— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) June 2, 2020
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also revealed on Twitter that it was federal police who used the tear gas with no provocation, 25 minutes before the 7 p.m. E.T. curfew went into effect. Bowser said it was an act that will make it "more difficult" for the Washington D.C. Police Department for the rest of the night. "Shameful!" she tweeted, adding, "D.C. residents - go home. Be safe."
During Trump's speech, he said he would take "swift and decisive action" to protect "our great capital," calling the protests Sunday night "a total disgrace." Trump said "thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers" were dispatched to "stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property." At the very end, Trump said he was going to "pay my respects to a very, very special place," which turned out to be St. John's. He only briefly stood in front of the church, awkwardly holding up a Bible before going back to the White House.
The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop at St. John's, told the Washington Post she was "outraged" by Trump's visit. She said his administration never gave her a "courtesy call that they would be clearing with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop." Budde also denounced Trump for holding a Bible "that declares that God is love and when everything he has said and done is to enflame violence."