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The Trump campaign has demanded journalists retract claims that tear gas was used on protestors outside the White House on Monday, less than half hour before the citywide curfew went into effect, and ahead of President Trump’s visit to St. John’s Church down the street.
“It’s said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on. This tear gas lie is proof of that. For nearly an entire day, the whole of the press corps frantically reported the ‘news’ of a tear gas attack on ‘peaceful’ protestors in Lafayette Park, with no evidence to support such claims,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump campaign.
The campaign pointed to statements from the U.S. Park Police, which denied using tear gas before the president’s church visit. The police department did, however, acknowledge using pepper balls and smoke canisters after “violent protesters” reportedly became “combative.”
“Every news organization which reported the tear gas lie should immediately correct or retract its erroneous reporting,” said Murtaugh.
The police department said in a statement on Tuesday that some protestors at the scene were throwing projectiles, including bricks and “caustic liquids.”
“At approximately 6:33 pm, violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids. The protestors also climbed onto a historic building at the north end of Lafayette Park that was destroyed by arson days prior. Intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street,” said the police department, noting that they first tried to clear the area with loudspeakers and horse patrols.
“As many of the protestors became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls. No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park,” said the statement, which emphasized the importance of peaceful assembly.
USA Today makes the following points about pepper balls, and the Centers for Disease Control’s definition of “riot control agents”:
A pepper ball is a projectile that contains chemicals, like pepper spray, that would irritate the eyes and lungs. Such a combination with smoke canisters would create clouds of a chemical irritant that would cause tearing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that “tear gas” and “riot control agents” are terms that can be used interchangeably. On its website, the agency also states that “pepper spray” is a “riot control agent.”
“Riot control agents (sometimes referred to as ‘tear gas’) are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin,” the CDC’s website reads, mentioning pepper spray specifically.
Others say there is a distinction between the two terms, with tear gas relying on a man-made chemical agent and pepper spray using a natural agent. Both forms of irritants can causing tearing and coughing.
Amidst nationwide protests, unrests and riots, Trump’s visit to the church was met with mixed reactions among Republican senators.
According to CNN, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has defended the president’s visit to the historic church, which has hosted every president since James Madison: “I think that when there was destruction to a church or any other historical thing that America would put great confidence in that should not be destroyed, I think a president ought to bring attention to that terrorist activity, and go there and do … what he did last night.”
Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has called the visit unhelpful: “I guess he’s trying to say we’re reclaiming the church. But the point is that we need to focus on what happened to Mr. Floyd, it’s a systematic problem, but you can’t do that until you get order.”
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) also made a strong statement after the president’s visit, reports The Times.
“There is no right to riot, no right to destroy others’ property and no right to throw rocks at police,” said Sasse. “But there is a fundamental — a constitutional — right to protest, and I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the word of God as a political prop.”
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