WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- Defense Secretary Mark Esper claimed that he was not aware that President Donald Trump would pose with a Bible in a church photo-op.
- The said photo-op took place after a violent crowd dispersal in Lafayette Park.
- Esper said that he thought they were meeting the troops to assess the damage and claimed that he did not know of the dispersal methods before they were deployed.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper claimed on Tuesday that he was not aware that President Donald Trump would pose with a Bible in a church photo-op when they left the White House after a violent crowd dispersal against protesters.
“I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops. I didn’t know where I was going. I wanted to see how much damage actually happened,” Esper explained in an interview with NBC News.
Esper was referring to the aftermath of Monday’s protest in Washington’s Lafayette Park.
The protest was just one of many that have erupted nationwide over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.
The protest in Lafayette Park, which is located across from the White House, was abruptly disrupted when federal police deployed tear gas and flash-bang grenades. Meanwhile, the president was pledging in a Rose Garden speech to crack down on anti-racist demonstrations.
After his speech, Trump left the White House accompanied by an entourage. They walked to St. John’s Church for a photo-op. He posed while holding up a Bible, declared America the “greatest country in the world,” and left.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, was also with the president. He walked around the capital on Monday evening to check on the National Guard troops.
Earlier on Tuesday, military staff said that the general did not know about the photo-op or that such dispersal tactics were to be employed.
Esper expressed how “very proud” he was of the National Guard during an interview with NBC News on Tuesday. He added that he had initially wanted to go out and thank them. However, he had “no idea” about the methods to be used to disperse the crowds.
The defense secretary had stated earlier this week that the military would help quell the nationwide protests. He added that the Pentagon fully supported local law enforcement.
During a call with governors, Esper had said, “I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal.” The audio of the call was obtained by The Washington Post.