Trump Photo Op – Black Lives Matter Plaza

Credit: NBC News

In the wake of the protests for George Floyd every American city came out in support in a big, non-socially distanced way. Protests came to Washington D.C. and there were plenty of peaceful protesters however there was someone who was not in quite the same mood. President Trump did not approve of the protests from the outset and repeatedly denounced rioting, confusing the two in the process. On June 1 the events that would transpire became a national story and polarized opinions across the board. Aside from the initial protesting there was also vandalism and looting. Gorge’s death was on May 25th and thus the events in D.C. came just 1 week after the start of national protesting. On June 1st there was a peaceful protest on H Street NW next to Lafayette Square (a place common with protesters) which is across 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and attached to the White House. President Trump began his speech at about 6:44 p.m. and told the public that he wanted governors to deploy the National Guard to dominate the streets and that, while he was an ally to peaceful protesters, he would stop the rioting and violence. Across the White House, a very different picture was emerging.

Around 6:07 p.m., members of the D.C. National Guard and U.S. Park Police began forming into a wall at the park. Attorney General Barr and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark A. Milley were spotted behind the military and police. At 6:16 p.m. different officers begin putting on gas masks as they were receiving an update that tear gas may be used. Barr and Milley left around 15 minutes after they were spotted and protesters were ordered to leave. Around 6:28 p.m. the officers advanced slightly and a Bureau of Prisons Special Operations Force was spotted. At 6:35 p.m. officers started pushing protesters back into the streets and used a chemical grenade. At this point the police hadn’t been beating people heavily however this is where the Australian news crew of 7News Australia were assaulted by the police. The reporter with him was hit by another officer as she ran away and they said that rubber bullets and tear gas were being used. The Australian Prime Minister later asked for an investigation into the incident. Pepper balls and a stinger ball grenade were also used as the police pushed protesters past St. John’s Church. After Trump’s speech began the protesters were pushed into 17th Street and then south and chemical grenades were constantly used. Reverend Gini Gerbasi, rector at St. John’s, had organized supplies for the protesters when, before 7 p.m., police launched tear gas and projectiles at them, forcing them off the property.

Credit: Washington Post

At 7:02 Trump left the White House with Barr, Milley, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and his associated entourage. They walked across Lafayette Square, arriving at St. John’s Church at 7:08 p.m. for the photo op. There, he held up the Bible his daughter had given him and posed in front of the church. After group photos with other officials he left and returned to the White House. In total the trip took under 20 minutes. Later in the day, protesters returned to the streets and two low-flying helicopters flew over them, trying to use rotor wash to force them to leave. The Red Cross Symbol on one also indicates it is a medical helicopter and using it for this purpose violates the Geneva Conventions.

In the aftermath there was a strong backlash to Trump’s use of force to disperse peaceful protesters for the assumed purpose of holding a photo op. A number or religious leaders condemned the visit, including Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who called out the photo op as violating the principles the church stood for. Even Pat Robertson didn’t support it. There has been speculation as to when this idea was planned and how but it remains clear that this event was clearly coordinated with the purpose of getting Trump to the church and back without protesters. By nighttime a large fence was erected around Lafayette Park which led people to compare it to the wall Trump has talked about installing on the U.S.-Mexico border.  Ironically the fencing had holes which made it easy to attach signs, photographs, artwork and messages which many people did. On June 11th the wall was taken down and museums were making inquiries to gather the art for exhibitions. Another point of contention was a video released by the White House comprised of shots taken during Trump’s walk to St. John’s set to music. People accused the President of using this as propaganda since the police attacked peaceful protesters for Trump to use a church.

The protesting accelerated after the events at the park and on June 2nd the size of the protests tripled while unmarked officers were stationed around the city; a combination of different federal officers used to quickly rally a force. On June 4th protesters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial which had been guarded as well. June 5th was a more notable day because the Mayor of Washington D.C., Muriel Bowser, renamed the two blocks of 16th street in front of Lafayette Park to Black Lives Matter Plaza. A large mural of the words in yellow was later painted on the road. On the same day Senator Mike Lee stated on Twitter that Mayor Bowser was forcing all 1,200 members of the Utah National Guard to leave their hotels in the city, stirring up an interesting debate on the 3rd Amendment to the constitution which rarely ever happens. It was also a bizarre night as a lightning strike injured two National Guard soldiers. On June 6th tens of thousands of protesters converged around Black Lives Matter Plaza and there were hundreds of thousands of protesters in the city. It appears Trump thought a show of force would suppress the protests but it appears he has misunderstood democracy and the attack backfired bigly. On June 7th he withdrew the National Guard claiming protesters had declined in numbers yet the video evidence says otherwise. By June 11th General Miley apologized publicly for his participation in the walk to St. John’s, feeling it violated a separation between the military and political activities.

The protests in the city brought memories of the 1968 protests in the country to mind since the National Guard was deployed to control Washington D.C. during that time as well. Rioting had been fierce in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and the D.C. police had been unable to control it. President Lyndon B. Johnson brought in federal troops and members of the D.C. National Guard to control the city with Marines manning machine guns on the steps to the Capitol and the Army guarding the White House. Trump is trying to evoke memories of this time with his use of the phrases Law and Order and the silent majority. Law and Order was used during Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign (and present beforehand) to describe his stance as tough on crime. The silent majority was used more frequently after he was elected to describe his support from a large number of voters who did not vocally support him but did agree with him. When Trump used the phrase, “When the looting starts the shooting starts.” he got a warning on Twitter but it is another reference to that era describing the use of excessive force (police brutality) against anyone deemed to be causing trouble which led to its own issues.

Trump may believe that by referencing this time he will portray himself as a powerful president in the face of the problems facing the country but there are differences, the first being that Nixon was elected during these events, not before them. Since Trump is president he shoulders the blame for the status of the country and can’t claim he would do things differently. Nixon benefited by not being president. In 1968 there were riots and a pandemic however the Vietnam War was a major campaign issue which is not the same as now, in addition to the fact that crime has heavily decreased in the United States and there were multiple high profile assassinations during the end of the 60’s. There were also major race tensions as the Civil Rights Act was being passed which is similar to BLM although different politically. These are also very large protests which have wide popular support, not just wanton rioting, although it has been occurring.  This is why we study history; there are patterns you can understand and compare to make predictions and know what is right and wrong. The future may be a similar outcome as in 1968 or radically different but attacking people to pose in front of a church you don’t visit or pray in will not help you win reelection. If you are president you should listen to your citizens, not attack them.

I thought this was a fairly powerful video summarizing the events.

Legal Eagle – American Carnage at Lafayette Square

Initial Vandalism/Looting




June 1

The Police Breaking the Protest with Clips from the Photo Op

The Washington Post:

USA Today:


Australian Journalists



Wtop News:

New York Times:

Forcing Priests to Leave


Episcopal Church:

Religious leaders condemning Trump

NBC News:

Trump Speech


CBS News:

AP News:


The Hill:

The Week:

Pat Robertson


June 2


Unmarked Officers


June 4


June 5

BLM Plaza

NBC Washington:

NBC Washington:

June 6

Los Angeles Times:

Fox News:

June 11

USA Today:

USA Today:

Nixon Comparison

I didn’t get my idea from here but this is a great analysis.

The Guardian:

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