According to the Inspector General of the Interior Ministry, the park police were also completely unaware that the then president would be walking through the park that day and visiting a nearby church. The federal agency, in charge of park security in America, led the eviction and was only informed about Trump’s upcoming visit shortly in advance.
The president, annoyed by the turmoil at the White House, walked with ministers, associates and military leaders to the historic St. Johns Church after the eviction of the park. At that spot, where a fire had broken out two days earlier during the protests against the death of George Floyd, he held a Bible in the air for the collected photographers.
The visit drew much criticism from Democrats, religious leaders and some media, among others, for allegedly taking unnecessary and harsh action against Black Lives Matter protesters so that he could have a photo opportunity at the church. However, the report of the Inspector General, an independent watchdog of the ministry, paints a different picture of the controversial moment.
Inspector general says US Park Police’s clearing of Lafayette Square was to erect fence and not tied to Trump’s church photo at https://t.co/SEWW0WHs3P
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 9, 2021
Shortly before that, in a speech at the White House, Trump had called on governors to deploy the National Guard during the demonstrations. In those days he expressed a lot of criticism of, among other things, the looting in some cities. In his speech, the president also threatened to deploy the army if the governors did not act quickly. “I am your president of law and order,” Trump said in the White House yard.
Talks with officials and park police records indicate that it had already been decided to clear the area around Lafayette Square before it was announced that Trump would visit the church. “Park police officers had made these decisions and put the operational plan into effect hours before they knew about a possible visit by the president to the park,” said Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt.
On that day, it was planned, the fences would be delivered and installed by a contractor. In the area, where there were daily demonstrations, fences were erected on a large scale to protect the White House. Greenblatt also examined documents from the other federal agencies involved in the eviction, such as the Secret Service and Border Patrol. “We have determined that the evidence does not support the theory that the park police cleared the park for President Trump to enter,” Greenblatt said in a statement.
According to Greenblatt, the operational commander of the park police was stunned when he first heard from Attorney General William Barr that the president would make an appearance in the park soon.
The US Park Police did not clear protesters to allow for then-President Trump’s march to St. John’s Church last June, but instead did so to allow a contractor to install a fence safely around the White House, a new report states https:// t.co/EQz7TVgDzy
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) June 9, 2021
Barr then took a closer look at the area, shortly before agents from the park police and the Secret Service, among others, took action against the protesters. “Will these people still be there when Potus comes out?” Barr then asked him. Potus is the abbreviation used for the American president. “Are you fucking kidding me?” the stunned park police commander responded, who immediately ran away.
This commander, who denies that Barr ordered him to clear the area, then contacted the park police chief. He was also surprised that Trump would show himself. At the time, the police chief said he did not know what Barr was talking about. It was not until the afternoon that the park police were informed that the president might be visiting the park. Trump praised the report in a response on Wednesday. He said the inspector general “cleared him completely and totally for the eviction of Lafayette Park.”
According to the inspector general, who only investigated the actions of the park police, the evacuation of the area was justified. He does criticize the actions of the various federal services that were involved in the eviction. For example, the demonstrators were not warned enough that eviction would take place.
The secret service, which is responsible for the security of the president, also took action against the demonstrators ahead of schedule. A secret service employee later apologized to the park police.