After an incendiary Rose Garden speech on Monday — in which he threatened to deploy the military if mayors and state governors refused to call out the National Guard to end protests of police brutality — President Donald Trump crossed Lafayette Park to pose for pictures while holding a Bible in front of the historic St. John Episcopal Church. Before his photo op, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear peaceful protesters from the park, which stands between the White House and the church.
Peaceful protesters in front of the White House were dispersed with minutes using tear gas and flash bangs. Roughly 30 minutes later, the president and his aides walked through Lafayette Square to visit St. John's church. pic.twitter.com/XAxdCkcdL4— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) June 1, 2020
Every sitting president since James Madison has visited the church. Amid weekend protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ongoing scourge of police brutality against black people, a fire was started in the basement of the church. No one was injured.
Trump's photo op was condemned by many people of faith.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, condemned the action, saying, "The Bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts."
We need our president, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values. For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be “one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.
According to Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post, D.C. Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde was "outraged" that they used the church "as a prop."
The Episcopal bishop of DC – who oversees the DC church Trump just stopped at – tells the @washingtonpost she is "outraged" and that neither she nor the rector was asked or told… “that they would be clearing with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop.." 1/3— Michelle Boorstein (@mboorstein) June 2, 2020
"Seeing President Trump stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church while holding a Bible in response to calls for racial justice — right after using military force to clear peaceful protestors out of the area — is one of the most flagrant misuses of religion I have ever seen," said Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance. "This only underscores the president’s complete lack of compassion for Black Americans and the lethal consequences of racism."
"You have to dominate," Trump said earlier in the day in a private call to governors obtained by Reuters. "If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time — they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks."
Dozens of cities across the United States remain under curfews at levels not seen since riots that broke out following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The National Guard deployed in 23 states and Washington, D.C.
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.