A massive crowd assembled outside the White House on Tuesday, one day after authorities used jaw-dropping force there to clear one of the many peaceful protests against systemic police brutality and racism triggered by the May 25 police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
On Monday, U.S. Park Police, Secret Service personnel, and members of other police forces forcibly cleared hundreds of protesters from LaFayette Square behind the White House in coordination with the National Guard—all so Donald Trump could visit a nearby church for a photo op. Witnesses and media footage showed police in riot armor charging at shocked protesters 20 minutes before a 7:00 p.m. curfew was set to begin, firing rubber bullets, pepper balls, and less-lethal grenades, as well as assaulting journalists. Trump, reportedly embarrassed by reports he had hid in a White House bunker during demonstrations on May 29, threatened to impose martial law on the nation if governors did not use resources already available to disperse protesters and looters in numerous cities.
The Park Police has since insisted the protesters were violent and denied using tear gas, despite numerous credible eyewitness accounts to the contrary. Instead, it claimed that grenades used on Monday dispersed nothing but smoke. Police have often claimed that the effects of tear gas are short-lived and mild, though evidence indicates the use of tear gas grenades can result in severe medical effects such as chemical burns, eye injuries, and respiratory problems.
Later Monday evening, looting and vandalism continued in downtown D.C., while military helicopters buzzed protesters in a type of a maneuver more typically associated with war zones. Police and military aircraft have separately been conducting constant aerial surveillance of protests across the country.
Tuesday saw a much larger crowd, many of whom seemed to have mobilized as much in response to the Trump administration’s handling of the protests as the events that preceded them, march through the nation’s capital. While police and security forces deployed in even greater numbers throughout downtown D.C., including heavily armed agents from several federal agencies, continued flybys by military helicopters, and soldiers in trucks, they largely stood by for hours after the 7:00 p.m. curfew, in contrast to Monday’s use of extreme force. (At one point, pepper spray appeared to have been used to push back crowds along a fence blocking off LaFayette Square, but Gizmodo did not observe the incident directly and the protesters quickly reconvened; a man also climbed a nearby pole and stole a street sign, but was booed by hundreds of other attendees.)
The day also coincided with other major developments. Those included more info on how White House personnel and Attorney General Bill Barr orchestrated the attack on protesters preceding the photo op, leaked FBI documents showing the agency found no evidence of organized anti-fascist (antifa) involvement in vandalism over the weekend as the president has claimed, and the National Guard announcing an investigation into the use of helicopters. Protesters also defied curfews in numerous other cities across the country as evidence grew the president had disastrously misread public sentiment on the protests.
All but a handful of demonstrators remained determinedly peaceful from 4:45 p.m. to around 9:00 p.m., when Gizmodo was present, and other reporting indicates that remained the case later into the evening. However, BuzzFeed News reporters tweeted that authorities appeared to be moving to kettle remaining protesters (as in corralling them into an area with no easy route of escape) starting at around 10:00 p.m., with one officer telling the reporters anyone remaining would be arrested. BuzzFeed reporter Addy Baird also tweeted a photo of a suspicious camera that appeared to be being used to monitor protesters.
However, Washington Post reporter Perry Stein tweeted that the situation in D.C. remained calm as of 11:00 p.m. ET.
More of the march on Tuesday below: