National Guardsman Contradicts Trump Administration’s Account of Use of Force Against Protesters

“A National Guard officer will testify Tuesday at a congressional hearing that the June 1 clearing of protesters outside the White House was “an unnecessary escalation of the use of force” and “deeply disturbing to me, and to fellow National Guardsmen.”

“From my observation, those demonstrators—our fellow American citizens—were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights,” Adam DeMarco, a major in the D.C. National Guard, will tell the House Natural Resources Committee, according to his prepared remarks. “Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

DeMarco’s testimony directly contradicts several of the Trump administration’s shifting explanations for what happened on June 1, when law enforcement violently dispersed a crowd of protesters in Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House. After police cleared the crowds, President Donald Trump conducted a photo shoot of himself holding a Bible outside St. John’s Church.”

“DeMarco testifies that around 6 p.m., Attorney General William Barr and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived.

“As the senior National Guard officer on the scene at the time, I gave General Milley a quick briefing on our mission and the current situation,” DeMarco writes. “General Milley told me to ensure that National Guard personnel remained calm, adding that we were there to respect the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.” (Milley has since apologized for appearing in Lafayette Square. “I should not have been there,” he said. “My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”)

At around 6:20 p.m., DeMarco continues, verbal warnings were given to the crowd to leave. But from where he was standing, about 20 yards away from the line of protesters, the warnings “were barely audible and I saw no indication that the demonstrators were cognizant of the warnings to disperse.”

Law enforcement rushed the crowd at around 6:30 p.m. Videos showed law enforcement assaulting an Australian TV crew. Media and other observers also reported being tear gassed.

The Trump administration says that protesters were throwing items at law enforcement, which DeMarco testifies he did not see. Park Police also emphatically denied they fired tear gas, claiming that officers instead fired smoke canisters and pepper balls, the latter of which are also a chemical irritant. But DeMarco says that tear gas was indeed used.”

Trump’s Actions in Portland Mesh With His Political Message

“Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania who was the first person to serve as secretary of Homeland Security, also condemned Trump’s actions.
”The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism,” Ridge, a Republican, told the radio host Michael Smerconish. “It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”

Ridge said it would be a “cold day in hell” before he would have consented as a governor to what is taking place. “I wish the president would take a more collaborative approach toward fighting this lawlessness than the unilateral approach he’s taken,” he said.”

“The focus of the Trump administration in recent days has been on Portland, where there have been nightly protests for weeks denouncing systemic racism in policing. In the last few days, federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals, traveling in unmarked cars, have swooped protesters off the street without explaining why, in some cases detaining them and in other cases letting them go because they were not actually suspects. The protests have increased in size since the arrival of federal officials.

Trump’s deployment of federal law enforcement is highly unusual: He is acting in spite of local opposition — city leaders are not asking for troops — and his actions go beyond emergency steps taken by some past American leaders like President George H.W. Bush, who sent troops to quell Los Angeles in 1992 at the request of California officials.”

Clearing Out Lafayette Park for Trump’s Church Photo Op Was Wrong, Even If Cops Didn’t Use Tear Gas

“On Monday, President Trump left the White House, walked across Lafayette Park—where rioters burned a public restroom the night before—and posed in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible. This photo op was made possible by U.S. Park Police, who cleared overwhelmingly peaceful protesters from the area using aggressive crowd control tactics.

People are now debating whether those tactics included the use of tear gas, which swiftly became central to the mainstream media coverage of the incident, and a focal point of criticism from former Vice President Joe Biden. Multiple on-the-ground reporters said they suffered the effects of tear-gassing—burning in the throat and eyes—but Park Police have emphatically denied this, claiming that officers fired canisters of smoke rather than tear gas. It’s hard to know for sure what happened, but it seems plausible that the protesters directly in front of Lafayette Park were, in fact, hit with smoke.

Whether the Park Police used tear gas or smoke matters because the truth always matters. If media reporting on that detail was wrong, they should correct their reporting. But whatever kind of canister was fired into the peaceful crowd, the most important point is that the entire episode was completely unacceptable. Law enforcement officers who harass peaceably assembled citizens are violating the First Amendment, whether or not they use tear gas.

Park Police have claimed they didn’t know of Trump’s plans to walk to the church, and that they began clearing the area prior to the curfew going into effect because protesters were throwing water bottles at them. Reports on the ground suggest some throwing of objects, but also tons of protesters instructing the throwers to stop it immediately. Multiple things could be true here, of course: The police might not have known precisely why they were instructed to push the protesters back, but if Trump had his heart set on walking to St. John’s, the cops were going to have to move the protesters to accommodate him. That the scene on ground was more complicated than it may have appeared is not an excuse for voiding the right to protest. ”

“It was morally wrong to disperse protesters at 6:30 p.m., and it would have been wrong to disperse them at 7:05 p.m.—curfew or not. Public officials at every level of government are making arbitrary decisions about whether such-and-such activity should stop being practiced in such-and-such manner and at such-and-such time. These excuses for violating civil liberties are just not compelling.”

“By all means, let’s pursue the truth of exactly what happened outside Lafayette Park. But let’s not get lost in the weeds along the way. The government’s rough handling of protesters—not rioters and looters, but citizens engaged in constitutionally protected demonstrations against police violence—is unlawful. It’s immoral. And it’s making things worse.”

It Wasn’t Tear Gas. It Was a Gaseous Substance That Causes Tears.

“No, President Donald Trump didn’t have police shoot tear gas at innocent people so he could pose for a pic with an upside-down Bible. Both the president and his lackeys at certain media outlets want to make sure we’re clear on that. You see, the truth is that Trump had police bombard a law-abiding crowd with a gaseous substance that produces tears.

You see the difference? Not really? It doesn’t matter. We’re talking about this right now, and that’s what Trump boosters and predator-cop stans want. The more time people spend debating the difference between tear gas and “smoke canisters and pepper balls,” the less focus on the fact that the Trump administration had peaceful citizens attacked so he could pretend on camera to be brave and religious.

This is the same tactic we’ve seen again and again from the Trump administration: deny, shift stories, and quibble over inane particulars.

It doesn’t matter if most media or even most Americans don’t really buy the administration’s deflections and lies. The point is to shift the public conversation, give Trump supporters an easy retort to critics, and to present enough reasonable doubt that folks not especially attuned to politics tune out. Getting people to see this as just another far-removed partisan squabble is essential to covering up the heinous and extreme nature of the stunt the administration pulled in Lafayette Square.”

“Trump folks want to pretend that masses of individual protesters and members of the press were lying, in coordination, to trick people into thinking the administration behaved worse than it did. But the fact of the matter is that being tear-gassed and being bombarded with a pepper-spray bomb produce the same effects, and people were reporting on what they had experienced and witnessed directly.

Accuracy in media matters, of course, and Reason has often been the first to point out when most press is getting a story wrong. But reporting accurately and truthfully means doing the absolute best you can with the facts that are available to you, admitting what you don’t know, and updating your narrative when new information arrives. And it certainly doesn’t mean describing things in exactly the terms that government officials or other powerful people prefer you to use.

The Trump administration might not want to call the substance law enforcement agents deployed “tear gas.” But under the common understanding of tear gas—”an umbrella term for about a half-dozen so-called ‘riot-control agents’ or ‘less lethal’ chemical weapons” per Mother Jones—and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition, it was.”

Will Civil Rights in Latin America Be a Permanent Casualty of Coronavirus?

“The world response to the COVID-19 epidemic has been completely unprecedented. At the time of writing, 82 countries have restricted travel through their borders and 37 have completely closed them completely. Both the invisible and physical walls that separate the world have grown less penetrable, but no region has enacted measures as strict as Latin America, whose governments fear their vulnerable health systems will not be able to cope with widespread outbreak.
A dozen Latin American countries—with a combined population of more than 175 million people—have placed their citizens on full lockdown, a measure which some countries are enforcing by deploying soldiers to the streets.”

“The primary barrier to governments enacting controversial power grabs are the critics and institutions who would object, so a handful of Latin American leaders are taking dramatic steps to silence those who check their power. They’re now muzzling journalists through intimidation, arrest, or character assassination.

In Honduras, the government passed an emergency measure that temporarily suspended constitutional protections on free speech for both citizens and journalists. On March 25, the Bolivian government announced a decree that allows imprisonment for up to 10 years of those who “misinform” or “promote non-compliance” with government regulation. The nonprofit Human Rights Watch has criticized the language of the law, saying it is intentionally vague and could be used to prosecute political opponents and journalists alike.

In Venezuela, freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas was arrested by Special Action Forces (FAES) and imprisoned for his coverage of the coronavirus crisis. The local Venezuelan press has covered half a dozen instances of journalists being intimidated. And on April 6, FAES arrested Luis Serrano, a civil assemblyman who would have determined the next election oversight board in Venezuela, according to WOLA, a human rights group in Latin America. They seized masks and protective gear Serrano’s organization had donated to journalists covering COVID-19 and detained politicians who’d been contradicting the government’s official coronavirus statistics, which many medical experts consider unbelievably low.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has turned the crisis into a political weapon, claiming that the press is trying to destroy his presidency through misinformation. Despite ignoring advice from health officials within his own party about the danger of the epidemic, he used the crisis as justification to release an executive order that abolished freedom of information legislation, effectively undermining the ability of journalists or NGOs to obtain public health information. The executive order was quickly struck down by Brazil’s Supreme Court.”

“Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia have all been heavily criticized by the United Nations for violent repression of a continent-wide wave of protests that swept through Latin America just months ago. If civil unrest flares up again over economic or health issues during the current state of emergency, protesters in many countries may find themselves facing down state forces with extralegal powers and a muzzled press.

The degree of authoritarianism varies by country”