- An Army National Guard officer is set to testify before Congress on President Donald Trump's controversial Bible photo-op in Washington last month.
- Adam DeMarco, who serves in the DC National Guard and is an Iraq combat veteran, contradicted the president and his top advisers in his written statement on the events of June 1.
- Contrary to Trump's assertions, DeMarco said that the protesters were peaceful and that "excessive" force was used to clear them, including tear gas.
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An Army National Guard commander who was present in Washington, DC, last month when law enforcement used force against protesters to clear a path for President Donald Trump to take a photo at a church near the White House is set to tell Congress that police used "excessive" force, including tear gas.
Maj. Adam DeMarco, who serves in the DC National Guard, is scheduled to testify on the controversial incident before the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
DeMarco, an Iraq War combat veteran, in his written statement said that the events he witnessed in Lafayette Square on June 1 were "deeply disturbing" to him and fellow National Guardsmen, noting that he was one of the most senior DC National Guard officers present at the square.
Though Trump depicted the demonstrators near the White House on June 1 as unruly and violent, DeMarco disputed this characterization.
"Having served in a combat zone, and understanding how to assess threat environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protestors or assess them to be violent," DeMarco wrote. "It was my observation that the use of force against demonstrators in the clearing operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force."
"From my observation, those demonstrators – our fellow American citizens -- were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force," DeMarco said."
Attorney General William Barr has insisted that there was no connection between the clearing operation and Trump's photo-op, which involved the president momentarily holding up a Bible in front of St. John's Church.
"This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block," Attorney General William P. Barr told CBS News in June.
But DeMarco in his written statement said that US Park Police (USPP) unexpectedly began to disperse the crowd roughly 30 minutes prior to the 7 pm ET curfew implemented in the nation's capital. The clearing operation was expected to begin after 7 pm, DeMarco said.
DeMarco also revealed new details of the visit Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made to Lafayette Square prior to the clearing operation. According to the written statement, Milley told DeMarco to "ensure that National Guard personnel remained calm, adding that we were there to respect the demonstrators' First Amendment rights." Milley later apologized for his role in the events of June 1.
The Army National Guard commander also said that tear gas was used despite being told by Park Police that it would not be employed.
"I could feel irritation in my eyes and nose, and based on my previous exposure to tear gas in my training at West Point and later in my Army training, I recognized that irritation as effects consistent with CS or 'tear gas.' And later that evening, I found spent tear gas canisters on the street nearby," DeMarco said.
US Park Police in June denied using tear gas on the protesters, stating that pepper balls and smoke cannisters were used. This prompted Trump to accuse the media of lying about the June 1 incident.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the pepper balls the USPP used on June 1 to disperse the crowd as a form of tear gas. Park Police spokesman Sergeant Eduardo Delgado conceded in an interview with Business Insider last month that the USPP should have said it did not use two specific, common gases found in tear gas: CS and CN.
The events on June 1 led to widespread condemnation, including from Trump's former secretary of defense, and prompted historians to warn that the Trump administration had mirrored the tactics of authoritarian regimes.
Eliza Relman contributed reporting.
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