Despite ample evidence, Attorney General Barr insists no tear gas was used in Lafayette Park

William Barr
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/Face the Nation)

Attorney General William Barr told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday he believes the Trump administration's violent dispersal of peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park last Monday was appropriate, insisted that he saw people throwing "projectiles" at the police, and claimed "there was no tear gas used." The U.S. Park Police "announced three times" to clear the square, he said, and when "they didn't move," the police used "pepper balls." CBS's Margaret Brennan said "there were chemical irritants," and Barr said: "No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant."

Everything he said there appears to be wrong.

The Justice Department considers pepper spray a "chemical agent," and even Pepperball's manufacturer calls its product "the most effective chemical irritant available." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense list pepper spray in the "tear gas" category, The Associated Press notes. "Law enforcement officials shy away from describing crowd-dispersing chemical tools as tear gas; it evokes police gassing citizens or the horrors of war. But giving those tools a more antiseptic name does not change the reality on the ground."

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"I'm not going to say that pepper balls don't irritate you" or are "not a tear gas," U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Eduardo Delgado told Vox on Friday. "It was a mistake on our part for using 'tear gas' because we just assumed people would think CS or CN," two common forms of tear gas. Acing Park Police Chief Gregory Monahan walked that back a few hours later, saying no federal law enforcement "used tear gas or OC Skat Shells" at Lafayette Park. OC stands for oleoresin capsicum, derived from chili peppers.

WUSA9 reporter Nathan Baca and his colleagues found canisters labeled OC Skat Shell and Speed-Heat CS in the street right after the crowd was pushed back. Barr said Park Police used tear gas on Sunday night, but the four canisters WUSA9 gathered "were not from a previous day," Baca says. "They were in the middle of the street undisturbed, and in one case, still slightly warm to the touch."

Baca also reports that the WUSA crew at the fence line "heard two bullhorn addresses from the direction of federal police," but "we could not make out what they said, and by appearance, none of the protesters could either," and "our crew also witnessed nothing but peaceful protester behavior." Watch Baca's full report at WUSA9.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.