U.S. Park Police reportedly say protesters near the White House were pushed back by riot police on Monday evening because they were attacking police officers, not because of a visit by President Trump to a nearby church that had been set alight the night before.
Trump visited St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been attacked by vandals on Sunday, moments after he addressed the nation and promised to restore “law and order” amid the protests and riots that have engulfed the country in the wake the death of George Floyd.
But as he did so, protesters were being pushed back by riot police near Lafayette Square who charged the crowds and used what was reported as being tear gas to disperse them. Media outlets connected the pushback with Trump’s visit -- and described the protesters as “peaceful.”
“Park Police Tear Gas Peaceful Protesters To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op,” read a NPR headline.
“Protesters Dispersed With Tear Gas So Trump Could Pose at Church,” said a New York Times story.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement to call out the “photo-op.”
“Across our country, Americans are protesting for an end to the pattern of racial injustice and brutality we saw most recently in the murder of George Floyd,” the statement read. “Yet, at a time when our country cries out for unification, this President is ripping it apart. 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.”
But on Tuesday morning, Park Police sources told WTOP that this was not the case, arguing that the protesters were not all peaceful, that tear gas was not used, and that officers did not know of Trump’s visit to the house of worship.
“A source says tear gas was never used -- instead smoke cannisters were deployed, which don't have an uncomfortable irritant in them,” reporter Neal Augenstein tweeted. “And, the source says Park Police didn't know President Trump would be walking across the park several minutes later.”
The outlet went on to report that the crowd was pushed back when officers were being hit with water bottles and that protesters had climbed onto the top of a structure at the north end of Lafayette Square that had been attacked and burned a day earlier.”
The Park Police did not immediately respond to request for comment from Fox News.
The White House cited the WTOP report to dispute earlier reports that the square was cleared for the president.
The protesters had previously been criticized by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said they were “professional agitators.”
“They knew the street needed to be cleared before 7 pm curfew,” Rubio tweeted. “But they deliberately stayed to trigger police action & get the story they wanted, that “police attacked peaceful protesters.”
There was, however, immediate pushback to some of the claims by the Park Police. Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker, who covered the protests, said there was “an intense irritant” in the chemical used against protesters.
“I was hit with it as were many others who accurately described what they saw,” he said.
Trump, meanwhile, declared that D.C. had “no problems” on Monday, in contrast to other cities like New York City.
“D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all," he wrote, touting "Overwhelming force" and "Domination."
Fox News' Edmund DeMarche contributed to this report.