The president on Monday said he was dispatching thousands of military personnel and soldiers throughout the nation’s capital to squelch protests in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.
Previous nights had devolved into looting and vandalism in the nation’s capital as police clashed with protesters.
Roughly 20 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew went into effect on Monday, military police moved aggressively to break up a peaceful gathering at Lafayette Square near the White House.
Officers launched tear gas into the crowd, sending hundreds of people scattering. The unprompted action allowed Trump to walk to St. John’s Church for a photo op with administration officials after the building had been burned a night earlier.
After the curfew, officers arrested scores of demonstrators who continued to gather and march downtown, and military helicopters were used to try to disperse individuals by hovering above them to produce intense gusts and noise.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was spotted roaming the streets of Washington in his military uniform. Attorney General William Barr was seen monitoring the situation in plain clothes.
The chaotic scene apparently pleased Trump, who spent the weekend decrying Democrats for failing to squelch the demonstrations in cities across the nation. On Monday, he called for governors to “dominate” the streets by deploying the National Guard to quell protests. He pledged to send in the U.S. military if unruly demonstrations continued, declaring himself the “president of law and order.”
The use of force against protesters in Lafayette Square drew widespread condemnation.
“Tear-gassing peaceful protestors without provocation just so that the President could pose for photos outside a church dishonors every value that faith teaches us,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.