Attorney General William P. Barr personally ordered law enforcement officials on the ground to clear the streets around Lafayette Square just before President Trump spoke Monday, a Justice Department official said, a directive that prompted a show of aggression against a crowd of largely peaceful protesters, drawing widespread condemnation.
Officers from the U.S. Park Police and other agencies used smoke canisters, riot shields, batons and officers on horseback to shove and chase people gathered to protest the death of George Floyd. At one point, a line of police rushed a group of protesters standing on H Street NW, many of whom were standing still with their hands up, forcing them to race away, coughing from smoke. Some were struck by rubber bullets.
Secret Service officers then surrounded the area and created a protective zone for President Trump, who moments later crossed the street and made an appearance outside St. John’s Church.
On Tuesday, however, federal officials offered conflicting reasons for the forcible removal of the protesters, seeking to separate the move from Trump’s visit to the church.
The White House asserted that the crowd was dispersed to help enforce the city’s 7 p.m. curfew. Meanwhile, two federal law enforcement officials said the decision had been made late Sunday or early Monday to extend the perimeter around Lafayette Square by one block.
The plan was to be executed, according to the Justice Department official, the following afternoon. Barr was a part of the decision-making process, said the official, who was not authorized to comment ahead of Barr addressing the matter himself publicly and who spoke on the condition of anonymity.