Watch The Washington Post clinically dismantle various White House claims about the Lafayette Square debacle

Federal prison riot guards
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/The Washington Post)

A week ago, federal law enforcement forcibly removed a group of protesters from the edge of Lafayette Square using tear gas, "stinger" grenades with rubber pellets, flash-bangs, and other irritants, shortly before President Trump walked through the cleared area for a short photo op in front of a church, where he brandished somebody else's Bible.

In the week since, the White House, U.S. Park Police, and Attorney General William Barr have given various, shifting accounts of what happened. Most of them strain credulity, The Washington Post demonstrates in a 12-minute video painstakingly reconstructing that hour on the evening of June 1 from dozens of videos, police radio communications, and other records.

Barr and the White House claim the protesters were violent — that appears to be false, though one or two are captured throwing water bottles at the heavily armored police. The White House, Trump's campaign, the U.S. Park Police's acting chief, and Barr have all insisted "tear gas" wasn't used, and that's false both in the broader sense that the PepperBalls whose use Barr acknowledges are a form of chemical tear gas and also in the narrow sense, given compelling evidence that CS tear gas canisters were fired, possibly by Bureau of Prisons riot guards.

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Barr and the White House now claim that pushing protesters back from Lafayette Square was not related to Trump's photo op excursion, and while it may be true that U.S. Park Police had planned to expand the perimeter anyway, it seems unlikely at best that the riot tactics used were not connected to Trump's imminent stroll. Longtime U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer told the Post that moving the perimeter would normally have been done before dawn, when the square was empty.

Trump's photo op, and the police violence that preceded it, led to condemnation from former military leaders, current and former politicians, and normally friendly columnists; it ramped up the sizes of the protests nationwide; and it coincided with a serious hit to Trump's poll numbers. It seems like a defining moment in a presidency full of them, but as GOP pollster Whit Ayres reminds Politico, the election is still five months away, and "five months ago was before a pandemic, before racial unrest, before an economic collapse, and before impeachment."

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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.