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President Donald Trump, in a navy suit and blue tie, walks between two columns of police officers clad in riot gear. The officers are in tight ranks, creating a path of protection for the president.
As President Trump addressed the country from the Rose Garden, loud booms could be sporadically heard in the background as law enforcement officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters who had gathered near the White House.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

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Trump’s push for “law and order” only led to more chaos in DC Monday night

Uprisings in DC show the danger of Trump’s insistence for troops at protests.

Sean Collins is a news editor with Vox’s politics and policy team. He’s helped cover elections, Congress, and both the Biden and Trump administrations. Previously, Sean was Vox’s weekend editor.

President Donald Trump made his first White House address on the protests around the US Monday. From the Rose Garden, about 15 minutes before Washington, DC’s 7 pm ET curfew took effect, he addressed peaceful protesters nationwide, telling them, “I will fight to protect you.”

However, it quickly became clear that law enforcement would instead fight protesters on his behalf. And his insistence in increasing the number of law enforcement personnel in Washington, DC, only led to greater chaos Monday night, with numerous examples of the sort of police action protesters have been demonstrating against.

In his speech, Trump did not invoke the Insurrection Act, which would allow him to send troops to communities across the US, but he did offer each state military support — something no state took him up on. And he said of Washington, DC, “What happened in the city last night was a total disgrace. As we speak I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and wanton destruction of property. We are putting everybody on warning.”

But in their first act of the evening, that additional law enforcement acted with sudden violence. As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp reported, “Just before [Trump] spoke, federal police violently broke up a peaceful protest just outside the White House, tear-gassing a group of about 1,000 demonstrators and then firing rubber bullets at them so Trump could have an uninterrupted photo op at a nearby church damaged in the weekend’s upheaval.”

With the Washington Monument and White House visible in a haze of gas, security forces in riot gear stand in front of a group of protesters of color, all of whom have their arms raised.
Police officers wearing riot gear tear-gassed demonstrators outside of the White House.
Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images
Buildings and protesters are obscured by a dense cloud of white gas — the only clear area, to the right of the photo, shows police in riot gear marching forward.
Secret Service, National Guard, and Park Police personnel were used to make a path for President Trump and his team to visit a nearby church after his address.
Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images
Three troops in camouflage, in armor and holding weapons, pin a person wearing a blue bike helmet to the ground as mounted police look on.
Military police officers move on protesters after firing tear gas into the crowd.
Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters raise their arms amid clouds of smoke and gas — one man can be seen being hit with a police shield, and is falling to the ground.
Law enforcement began their assault just after 6:30 pm — less than half an hour before Washington, DC’s 7 pm curfew.
Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images
Protesters struggle to hold back armored security forces striking out at a masked woman struggling to get to her feet; a man in black pulls her up.
As of Tuesday morning, the White House is explicitly not denying that President Trump or another administration official greenlit the tear gas attack.
Roberto Schimdt/AFP via Getty Images

Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of that church — St. John’s — told CNN she was “outraged” by Trump having the protesters cleared simply so he could pose with a Bible in front of a boarded-up church, calling the message he sent “antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.”

The move outraged the district’s local policing partners as well. Arlington County, a suburban area abutting the city in Virginia, has a mutual aid agreement in place with Washington, DC, that allows police resources to be shared between the two. Some members of the Arlington County Police Department were among the force ordered to clear the area between the White House and St. John’s, and officials withdrew their police from the city, angered about the officers being used to suppress a protest.

Trump, flanked by the officials noted above — all in dark suits, all sober, except for McEnany, who is smiling slightly, walks away from the boarded up St. John’s.
President Trump was accompanied by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, from left, Attorney General William Barr, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Patrick Semansky/AP
Trump, in a navy suit and blue tie, holds the top and bottom of a bible, frowning slightly in front of St. John’s iconic yellow exterior, now boarded up.
President Trump holds a Bible outside of St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Trump holds up a bible next to his head, gripping it by its bottom. He stands amid green bushes in front of a justice black wrought iron sign reading “St. John’s Church Parish House.” A board beneath the sign lists the church officials, and says, “All are welcome.”
In his Rose Garden address, President Trump threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act — a centuries-old law that gives the president the authority to send the US military into US cities and towns to quash domestic unrest.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

A statement from the county says its leaders are now “re-evaluating the agreements that allowed our officers to be put in a compromising position that endangered their health and safety, and that of the people around them, for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.”

The lack of ACPD officers likely went unnoticed by protesters, however, who, true to the president’s word, faced federal law enforcement and heavy-handed tactics.

Acting Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Mark Morgan proudly announced that CBP officers had been deployed in DC to stop “chaos & acts of domestic terrorism by groups of radicals & agitators” on Twitter one hour and 20 minutes before the curfew began.

And the US Army appeared to be on the scene as well — Fox News reports low-flying Army Blackhawk and Lakota helicopters hovered just a little ways above protesters’ heads, in an apparent attempt to force protesters off the streets using the turbulence created by their rotors.

The helicopter tactics came following the curfew and were reportedly effective in some neighborhoods. However, they also led to the sort of “wanton destruction of property” Trump blamed protesters for in his Rose Garden speech — the military vehicles destroyed storefronts and trees, according to Fox News.

The New York Times notes the helicopter tactic is a common one in war zones, where it is used to scatter enemy forces. The fact that it was used domestically represents a literal militarization of the police and is exactly the sort of policing tactic protesters hope to end with their demonstrations.

As are putative measures by police — and examples of such measures were reportedly seen in at least one DC neighborhood, where residents sheltered protesters out after the 7 pm curfew.

Resident Rahul Dubey opened his door to protesters being chased through the city’s DuPont Circle neighborhood — which is adjacent to the White House — around 11:30 pm. According to DCist, officers were kettling, or attempting to trap by flanking, the protesters using flash-bang grenades and pepper spray.

“I opened a door,” Dubey told the Washington Post’s Derek Hawkins. “You would have done the same thing.”

Between 50 and 100 people came in. In response, law enforcement took up positions outside the house. They were still there at 2 am and had been joined by what Hawkins described as “a big transport bus.”

DC is one city, but Tuesday night offered a preview of the president’s vision for policing these protests. While other cities are under state and local control, the federal government has control over much of the city’s law enforcement power — and as DCist noted, can even temporarily assume control of the city’s police force. If Trump were to invoke the Insurrection Act, the entire country could look like DC did on Monday — if not worse, particularly given the president saw all this chaos as a success, praising the “Overwhelming force. Domination.”

Trump promised that if mayors and governors increased military presence in their jurisdictions, it would bring “security, not anarchy, healing not hatred, justice, not chaos.” Monday night in DC showed just how hollow — and dangerously unhelpful — that promise was.


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