Marco Rubio: Protesters tear-gassed before Trump photo-op "deliberately" tried "to trigger police"

Police backed by the National Guard also unleashed rubber bullets on protesters to clear the way for the photo-op

Published June 2, 2020 2:56PM (EDT)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL (ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL (ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Monday accused the peaceful protesters who scattered from Lafayette Park after police backed by the National Guard unleashed tear gas and rubber bullets and to clear the way for President Donald Trump to have a photo-op of "deliberately" attempting "to trigger police action."

"Many in the media fell for the calculated & deliberate tactics of professional agitators," the Florida Republican tweeted.

"They knew the street needed to be cleared before 7pm curfew," Rubio continued. "But they deliberately stayed to trigger police action & get the story they wanted, that 'police attacked peaceful protestors.'"

The operation, however, began well before the city's 7:00 p.m. curfew, according to Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

"A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!" Bowser tweeted.

Rubio's mischaracterization of the events was called out on Twitter by critics and supporters alike.

Rubio also turned to criticize CNN for "blaming the police while ignoring several obvious things."

"The overwhelming majority of agitators are not African Americans … many wearing gas masks or goggles … they know exactly how to provoke police," the senator tweeted.

Though federal law enforcement officials are charged with protecting Lafayette Square and the White House perimeter, Boswer told CNN that the attack had "outraged" her.

"We were very shocked  and quite frankly, outraged — that people who were not violating the curfew and who did not seem to have provoked attack were attacked and moved out by the federal law enforcement officials who were directed to clear the way for the president," the mayor added.

In a disproportionate show of force on Monday, police backed by the National Guard unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang shells to clear the way for President Donald Trump to have his photo in front of historic St. John's Episcopal Church holding a Bible. Trump walked on foot from the White House after Rose Garden speech in which he threatened to deploy the military on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights.

Trump's speech began at approximately 6:44 p.m. Cable news split-screens showed officers deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets into crowds as the president spoke with live sound.

During the address, Trump declared himself an "ally of all peaceful protesters" before invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807. The president said he would use the military to "quickly solve the problem for them" if governors could not quell the unrest sweeping the nation in over the death of George Floyd.

"Our country always wins," Trump added. "That is why I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence," he said.

CNN's split-screen showed protesters, who had been dancing and singing to a woman playing a guitar, running as flash-bangs burst amid thick clouds of tear gas

"The destruction of innocent life and the spilling of innocent blood is an offense to humanity and a crime against God," Trump said as demonstrators limped bleeding from church grounds.

Rubio has spent the last several days tweeting video monologues critical of those protesting the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. Those tweets portray the demonstrators as countless and muddied fragments at ideological odds with each other, from leftist anarchists to "ethnic nationalists" on the right.

"These people are violent, domestic extremists," Rubio said, "and they range from Antifa groups who are radical to the left to some other groups, radical to the right. In fact, groups that I would argue don't even belong on the political spectrum as we know it."

"And their goal, while they are ideologically opposed to each other … they hate the police, they hate the government, and they want this country to fall apart … some of them want a Second Civil War," the senator added.

Dozens of cities have imposed curfews in an effort to dial down the temperature, as every corner of the country roiled in historic unrest.

Legal experts tend to agree that Trump has the authority to deploy the military, with possibly a few restrictions. However, such a move is destined to meet with resistance from Democratic governors.

Rubio addressed the question to a certain extent two months ago in the context of how to relax economic restrictions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Taking to Twitter, Rubio defended gubernatorial autonomy against Trump's power plays, writing that "the Constitution and common sense dictates these decisions be made at the state level."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

MORE FROM Roger Sollenberger

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Black Lives Matter Brief Donald Trump Marco Rubio Muriel Bowser Republicans Washington White House