A US combat veteran and National Guard officer was “deeply disturbed” as he witnessed federal police use “excessive force” to violently clear peaceful protesters near the White House to make way for US President Donald Trump to pose for photos outside a church last month, he will testify Tuesday.
US Park Police began violently clearing protesters from Lafayette Square on June 1 without apparent provocation or adequate warning shortly after Attorney General William Barr spoke with police leaders, according to written testimony by D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco. He’s scheduled to present the testimony at a hearing investigating the incident before the House Committee on Natural Resources.
A short time after the protesters were driven off, Trump strode across the square surrounded by a White House entourage to pose in front of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible.
The account by DeMarco, who was the senior National Guard officer on the scene, contradicts Barr, who has insisted that anti-racism protesters were violent and deserved gassing and physical assault by law enforcement that evening. “They were not peaceful protesters. That’s one of the big lies that the media is ... perpetuating at this point,” the attorney general said in a televised interview last month.
DeMarco, a West Point graduage who served in Iraq, writes that the “events I witnessed ... were 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. Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”
DeMarco said he came forward with his deep concerns to fulfill the “oath I swore as a military officer to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
DeMarco and a crew of Guardsmen were there June 1 to back up the Park Police to clear the area at curfew and create a larger, fenced-off security area at Lafayette Square in front of the White House.
But 40 minutes before the 7 pm curfew, DeMarco witnessed Barr speaking with Park Police leaders, who quickly began to violently rout the demonstrators without warning the Guardsmen. The police were joined by the Secret Service and unidentified forces, DeMarco noted. “From what I could observe, the demonstrators were behaving peacefully” when they were attacked, he said.
DeMarco said that the legally required warnings to demonstrators to disperse were “barely audible” and apparently not heard by protesters.
Videos of scenes of demonstrators being struck by batons, hacked at with shields, shoved and gassed sparked an outcry and demands for an investigation. According to DeMarco, the Park Police told him that the “gas” protesters complained of was “stage smoke.” But it stung his eyes and throat, and he later found spent tear gas canisters.
Before the police violence erupted, DeMarco spoke with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to provide a “quick briefing on our mission and the current situation,” he wrote. Milley “told me to ensure that National Guard personnel remained calm, adding that we were there to respect the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.”
Shortly after the Park Police drove back the protesters, Milley walked in his military fatigues alongside Trump as the president headed to the church. Milley later called his participation in the president’s photo-op a “mistake.” He added: “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
The National Park Service, which oversees the Park Police, responded to DeMarco’s account Monday by repeating a statement from Park Police Cheif Gregory Monahan, who said last month that his force acted to “curtail the violence that was underway,” The Associated Press reported.
That account is contradicted by witnesses and videos, which reveal several incidents of apparent police violence. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month called for an investigation after an Australian news crew was attacked by police officers (seen in the tweet below).