In a statement released on Saturday, the Secret Service admitted that a member of the agency used pepper spray on protesters that were gathered in Lafayette Square on June 1 to clear the area for President Donald Trump’s photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church, The Hill reported.
In a separate statement that was released last week, the Secret Service said that they did not use pepper spray or tear gas on protesters to “secure the area” around Lafayette Square for the president’s walk to the church.
According to The Hill, videos from Lafayette Square on June 1 showed law enforcement using rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters in the area. In-person accounts also confirmed that force was used by the authorities just minutes before President Trump walked through the area, even though the protesters were not yet in violation of the curfew and reportedly protesting peacefully.
A couple of days after the incident, photos emerged that also showed force being used against protesters.
The Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police both stated that they did not use force — including tear gas or pepper spray — on protesters, per The Hill. Now, both agencies are walking back those statements.
Earlier in June, a spokesperson for the Park Police stated that they had been mistaken when they said that tear gas wasn’t used on protesters and that the USPP hadn’t used force during the incident, CNN reported. The statement released by the Secret Service on Saturday indicated that their June 5 statement had been refuted by an investigation into the incident. That investigation uncovered that one agent used pepper spray “in response to an assaultive individual.”
Secret Service Statement: pic.twitter.com/hsocyFntAl
— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) June 13, 2020
The president has been heavily and widely criticized for the photo op and the actions taken by the Secret Service and USPP to clear protesters from Lafayette Square to set up the photo, Politico reported. Republican lawmakers, who have usually kept their criticisms of the president quiet, condemned the administration’s choice to use force to clear protesters so Trump could walk to the church.
“It was painful to watch peaceful protesters be subjected to tear gas in order for the president to go across the street to a church that I believe he’s attended only once,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black man in the Senate, was more forceful in his rebuke.
“Should you use tear gas to clear a path so the president can go have a photo-op? The answer is no,” he said.
Democrats were scathing in their criticism of the events at Lafayette Square. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi read a passage from the Bible about healing to fire back at Trump’s opportunistic use of religious iconography. She also said that the use of force on protesters “has no place, and it’s time for us to do away with that.”
According to Politico, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went as far as introducing a formal resolution to condemn the president’s actions.
Protesters were gathered in Lafayette Square to protest police brutality after the death of George Floyd when force was used against them to clear the area.