A member of the National Guard directly informed Attorney General William Barr that anti-racist protesters were peaceful as Barr launched a violent police action against them before President Donald Trump walked to a church to pose with a Bible for a photo-op, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Monday.
The “eyewitness” account provided to Norton from the officer who was on duty that day contradicts Barr’s insistence in a CBS News interview Sunday that the protesters “were not peaceful,” and that their actions warranted a law enforcement onslaught.
Protesters were charged, struck with batons and shields and rubber bullets, manhandled, and tear-gassed June 1 to make way for Trump to walk across the street from the White House so he could hold aloft a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
“The D.C. National Guard member spoke to Attorney General Barr, who was in charge, and explained that the crowd was peaceful — but troops from federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, remained,” said a statement Sunday from the delegate’s office.
Norton shielded the identity of the National Guard officer, whom she personally talked to, because he was not authorized to speak for the Guard, she told HuffPost on Monday. He had reached out to her office to recount the events of that evening, she said.
According to his account, protesters gathered outside the White House in Lafayette Park that evening were told three times to disperse but that the “crowd was too large for most to hear the warnings.”
The “sudden use of smoke and pepper balls” even before curfew as Trump spoke in the White House Rose Garden about cracking down on anti-racist protesters, “caused pandemonium,” and a “horse cavalry” pushed the crowd off the street, the statement noted.
The District of Columbia delegate to the U.S. House told HuffPost: “The facts aren’t in question. The crowd was peaceful. We could all see that on TV.”
The U.S. National Guard referred HuffPost to the D.C. National Guard for comment, but it did not respond to messages — nor did the Department of Justice.
Barr on Sunday called it “one of the big lies” by the media that protesters in Washington were peaceful that day. He claimed they were hurling “projectiles” at officers, though that was not supported in countless videos of the protesters by TV crews and cellphone users. Barr also claimed the crowd ignored warnings to disperse.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Monday that the Trump administration had no regrets about the violent crackdown on peaceful protesters. She added: “Look, I’d note that many of those decisions were not made here within the White House,” pointing to the attorney general as the one who called for law enforcement to clear the area.
Barr said on CBS that he gave the order to push protesters back but insisted he didn’t “know that the president was going to be speaking” that day.
Barr also insisted that tear gas was not used, which has been contradicted by witness accounts, experts and evidence at the scene.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter have sued the Trump administration for what the groups called an “unconstitutional” and “frankly criminal attack” on the protesters outside the White House.