The Lafayette Park Protests And The Revision Of History

One of the most unsettling aspects of the last four years is the intentional effort to rewrite history in the media to fit a narrative either by denying facts or echoing clearly false statements. The recent stories on the riot in Congress is a good example.  Most of us denounced Trump’s speech (as it was being given) and, of course, the rioting itself.  Some, however, have noted that there have been violent protests for years, including the protest in Lafayette Square. The fact that there have been violent protests by the left does not take away from the disgraceful attack on Congress. Yet, there seems a controlling narrative that must be maintained at all costs — portraying past protests by groups on the left as peaceful to magnify the criticism of the recent violence in Congress. Even a site ironically called Media Matters published a piece not only calling the Lafayette protest peaceful but repeating a long discredited claim about the controversial Trump photo op.  I testified in Congress on the Lafayette Park operation and the revisionism surrounding the controversy is alarming.

The Lafayette Park protests occurred over multiple days and the clearing operation was ordered as a result of a decision made before the final day to establish a greater perimeter to protect the White House complex and immediate surrounding area — much as the same fence perimeter was used last week on Capitol Hill.  The operation was carried out, in my view, in an abusive way due to the level of force deployed and, as discussed below, the charging of the police line.  They could have cleared the area without that level of force in my judgment, as I discussed in my testimony.

The Media Matters article by Bobby Lewis is illustrative an array of such media pieces.  It was sent to my attention by a reader due to a reference to an interview that I did this week:

“Fox contributor Jonathan Turley compared the Capitol attack to “the Lafayette Park incident,” a June 2020 Black Lives Matter protest he falsely described as “an attack on the White House.” What actually happened was federal security forces tear-gassed protesters and media, without warning or serious provocation, in order to violently clear a path for a Trump photo-op in front of a church whose leaders did not want him there.”

Other sites have described the Lafayette Park protests as “peaceful.” One site called Quartz said the protests were “entirely peaceful” and objected that there was no “attack on the White House.”

That is simply not true. Quartz was open in how it construed the protest as peaceful by referring to only the final day. While that claim is contested by law enforcement which showed objects being thrown at police, it simply ignores that the order to clear the area was due to the preceding violence of the prior two days.

As discussed in my testimony, there was an exceptionally high number of officers injured during the protests around the White House complex.  Some 150 officers were injured during the protests and half of those were injured around the White House. The Justice Department claimed 750 injured officers during the various protests.  What is clear that is dozens of officers were injured and there are videotapes of officers hit by frozen bottles, bricks and other missiles.  For two days, the violence continued with the burning of a historic structure, extensive property damage and the attempted burning down of the historic St. John’s Church. The attacks around the complex were so great that the President was moved into the bunker and officers said that they were concerned that the complex might be breached.

It is also untrue that the area was cleared “in order to violently clear a path for a Trump photo-op.” A wide array of witnesses and documents detailed how the plan to clear the area was put into motion over 24 hours before the actual operation — and long before any discussion of a photo op.  The Park Police wanted to expand the perimeter to protect the White House and the plan was approved by then Attorney General Bill Barr. It was delayed because the officers were waiting for both fencing material and back-up personnel. When the personnel and fencing arrived, they proceeded with the operation. Barr repeatedly denied having knowledge of Trump’s desire for a photo op which arose long after the plan was approved.

At the hearing, I testified that I believed that there were unlawful actions taken in the operation.  The final police charge appeared unjustified as was an attack on a media crew. I also criticized with the level of force used and suggested an array of inquiries for Congress to pursue in these areas of possible illegality.

However, the record and videotapes demonstrate that there was a high level of violence and destruction in Lafayette Park.  Indeed, there are analogies to the situation at the Capitol.  As with the Capitol, National Guard personnel were brought in after the violence had occurred. Indeed, in Lafayette Park, there was violence for two days before the deployment and the clearing of the area. In both situations, fencing was added to protect an expanded perimeter.

The point is not to defend either law enforcement operation. Indeed, I was highly critical of the clearing of Lafayette Park due to the excessive force used by the Park Police. However, it is simply not true that the Lafayette Park protests were peaceful as demonstrated by the high number of law enforcement injuries and extensive property damage.  Even on the day of the clearing of the area, there was some violence. However, when the park was cleared, there was not the violence of the preceding days. That is why the level of force was excessive. The reports of a “peaceful” protest intentionally omits the violence leading up to the plan to expand the perimeter.  The clearing of the park was not to address the immediate violence in the park. It was approved earlier to clear the park to protect the complex.  Thus, there had been considerable violence and destruction but there was not such violence at the time of the clearing of the park. That is what happened in Lafayette Square.

I fail to see why such facts cannot be recognized and still criticize actions in both operations. Indeed, you can make the valid point that the effort to stop a constitutional act in Congress is a far greater threat to our system. Yet, there is no need to revise the facts to make those points. Indeed, they are more compelling when presented in a frank and honest way.  We cannot reach a consensus as a nation if we are demanding answers based on diametrically opposed facts. There is clarity — and a truth — to be found in these incidents but it will take people of good faith to reach achieve that vital goal.