Secret Service Makes Conflicting Claims on Use of Pepper Spray Against Protesters Before Donald Trump Church Photo

The Secret Service has not confirmed that it did use pepper spray to disperse the peaceful protesters outside the White House on June 1, contradicting its earlier denial of that fact. The Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies have made several conflicting claims about the night of President Donald Trump's speech from the Rose Garden, followed by his photo op at St. John's Episcopal Church. The use of force in this context is a serious concern to civil rights activists around the country.

"On June 5, the U.S. Secret Service released information that the agency had concluded that no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park on Monday, June 1, based on the record and information available at that time," the Secret Service said in a new statement posted on Saturday. "Since that time, the agency has learned that one agency employee used capsicum spray (i.e., pepper spray) during that effort." While admitting to this use of force, the Secret Service reasserted its claim that the protesters affected were "assaultive individuals."

The claim that the protests outside the White House on the night of June 1 were violent in any way has been widely disputed, by everyone from witnesses to journalists covering the event. At first, the agencies involved were tight-lipped on the methods they had used to disperse the crowd, but since then several have opened up.

Though video from the scene showed tear gas canisters filling the air with smoke, the U.S. Park Police initially insisted that it had not used the chemical weapon against protesters. Just a few days later, according to a report by NBC News, the agency said it was a "mistake," confirming that tear gas had in fact been used. However, some within the agency still dispute this claim.

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Meanwhile, protesters still say that they were hit with rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades within sight of the White House on that night. They also say that these weapons were used indiscriminately on peaceful protesters, with no signs of resistance, property destruction or other illegal activities.

Critics say that Trump ordered these measures to be used on the protesters no matter what so that he could walk across the street for his photo op in front of the church — a symbolic move on every level. Still, despite the gradual admissions coming from the Secret Service and the Park Police, government officials still have yet to give a comprehensive and clear account of what happened that night.