An internal investigation into the forced clean-up of racial justice protesters in Washington, DC, was not swayed by plans by former President Donald Trump to be photographed outside a church while holding a Bible.
The report released Wednesday by the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior concludes that the protesters were cleared by the United States Parks Police (USPP) on June 1 in order for a contractor to begin installing a new fence.
Trump had been widely criticized for what appeared to be the forced cleaning of protesters with pepper drops and flashbangs 30 minutes before taking the photo outside St John’s Church near the White House.
Protesters took to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd in custody in Minneapolis days earlier on May 25.
Former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of the murder of Floyd in April.
Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said in a statement that the USPP had already planned to clean up the area and “began implementing the operational plan several hours before they learned of a possible presidential visit to the park. “.
Trump, who was misrepresented on Twitter, Facebook and other social media in the wake of the Jan.6 insurgency that attempted to prevent a joint session of Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory to keep Trump in power , issued a statement celebrating the report.
“As we have said from the start, and this was supported in today’s very detailed and professionally written report, our fine park police made the decision to clean up the park to allow a contractor safely install anti-scale fences to protect against Antifa rioters, radical BLM protesters and other violent protesters who are causing chaos and death in our cities, ”Trump said.
“Once again, thank you Inspector General!
However, it appears officials in the Trump administration tried to convince authorities to clean up the area. The report documents that Trump’s attorney general William Barr encouraged commanders shortly before the push to whitewash protesters because of Trump, but was fired.
The report includes the testimony of an anonymous USPP operations commander: “The attorney general asked him, ‘Will these people still be there when POTUS? [President of the United States] fate? ‘ The USPP operations commander told us he had not known until then that the president would come out of the White House and go to Lafayette Park. ”
The testimony continued: “He said he replied to the Attorney General, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ and then hung his head and walked away. The Attorney General then left Lafayette Park.”
The report determined that the decision to clear the protesters was justified, but that law enforcement agencies on the scene failed to effectively communicate with each other and failed to communicate warnings to the protesters about the impending crackdown.
Several different law enforcement agencies moved ahead of schedule and started engaging with protesters before the protesters had been sufficiently warned.
The report details how on June 1, a contingent from the Bureau of Prisons arrived at the scene late, did not receive a full briefing and used pepper pellets on protesters “contrary to the USPP incident commander’s instructions”.
The conclusions, which deny any political influence on decisions and cite fog-of-war confusion for any missteps, are likely to be dismissed as insufficient by critics of last summer’s crackdown.
The new report focuses on the decision-making of the USPP, which falls under the Interior Department, and its complicated interactions with various law enforcement entities, including the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department.
It points out that “the USPP and the Secret Service did not use a shared radio channel to communicate” and determines that “weaknesses in communication and coordination may have contributed to confusion during the operation”.
Lafayette Park was DC’s link to last year’s nationwide wave of racial justice protests, sometimes violent.
Trump and his administration have cracked down on protests across the United States, including a spate of “kidnappings” of protesters by federal officials in Portland, Oregon.
Much of the criticism of the cleanup and accusations of political influence stem from the decision to move in before the 7pm curfew Mayor Muriel Bowser set. The push surprised protesters and was criticized as being needlessly confrontational after two nights of clashes and property damage.
The report concludes that USPP commanders considered the curfew irrelevant. He quotes an incident commander as saying, “We were not enforcing the mayor’s curfew. We are a federal entity. We do not work directly for the mayor.
He continues that the commanders on the scene “did not think that the demonstrators would respect the order of curfew of the mayor of June 1 or that the wait would necessarily reduce the disturbances”.