Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended his order to force back protesters ahead of President Trump’s Monday photo op at St. John’s Church, saying the group was “becoming increasingly unruly” and was asked to move several times.
“We asked three times,” for protesters in Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C. to move back one block, Barr said at a press conference alongside FBI Director Christopher Wray. When demonstrators did not comply, “we moved our perimeter,” he said.
The largely peaceful protest in front of the White House was forcefully dispersed by law enforcement minutes before Trump walked over to St. John’s Episcopal Church, which protesters had set fire to the previous night. But Barr denied that the two events were connected.
“I did not know that he was going to do that until later in the day, after our plans were well under way to move the perimeter,” Barr said of Trump’s photo op. “So there was no correlation between our tactical plan to move the perimeter out by one block and the president’s going over to the church.”
The attorney general added that a “witches brew of different organizations” have engaged in inciting violence during the protests.
“We have evidence that antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity,” Barr said. “We are also seeing foreign actors playing all sides to exacerbate the violence.”
Since Saturday, the protests have resulted in 114 injuries to law enforcement personnel in Washington, Barr said, including 22 hospitalizations, mostly for serious head injuries. Protesters also used crowbars to smash sidewalks at the park into pieces to use as projectiles against federal law enforcement, and buildings on federal property were burned, the attorney general said.
“While many have peacefully expressed their anger and grief, others have hijacked protests to engage in lawlessness, violent rioting, arson, looting of businesses, and public property assaults on law enforcement officers and innocent people, and even the murder of a federal agent,” Barr said, referring to a contract federal officer who died after he was shot while performing security for a protest at the U.S. courthouse in Oakland.
Riots and protests have broken out in many cities across the country after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, including after Floyd passed out.
Barr acknowledged that “it is undeniable that many African Americans lacked confidence in our American criminal justice system,” but asserted that “the vast majority of police officers do their job bravely and righteously.”