The United States Secret Service revealed over the weekend that an agent used pepper spray against an ‘assaultive individual’ when helping clear Lafayette Park of protesters to make way for the president – a departure from previous claims that the chemical was not employed.
‘[T]he agency has learned that one agency employee used capsicum spray (i.e., pepper spray) during that effort,’ a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday claimed of the June 1 incident.
‘On June 5, the U.S. Secret Service released information that the agency had concluded that no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park on Monday, June 1, based on the record and information available at that time,’ the Secret Service said, adding that new information had led them to need to clear up the record.
The comments from USSS also comes about a week after Attorney General Bill Barr asserted that the ‘pepper balls’ used against protesters to disperse the crowd are not ‘chemical irritants,’ – even though they are composed of the same agents used in pepper spray.
Controversy over the incident ensued after law enforcement, Secret Service and National Guard were used to monitor protests surrounding the White House after riots broke out following the death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed while being arrested by a white police officer in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
The United State Secret Service clarified that it found one of its agents used pepper spray when helping clear Lafayette Park of protesters so Donald Trump could walk across the street from theWhite House to take a picture in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church
‘[T]he agency has learned that one agency employee used capsicum spray (i.e., pepper spray) during that effort,’ the agency said in a statement Saturday
This is the latest break in the details of what happened on June 1, including from last week when Attorney General Bill Barr asserted that pepper balls were used but that they are not a ‘chemical irritant’
The forces clear Lafayette Park, which sits in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, of peaceful demonstrators on June 1 so President Donald Trump could walk across the street to visit St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was set on fire by rioters the night before.
The less than five minute trip was largely symbolic and the opportunity for Trump to appeal to his religious base, as he held up a bible for a photo-op and called members of his cabinet up to take pictures with him in front of the church.
The stunt came after he address the nation from the Rose Garden on the violent riots that broke out in cities across the country in an escalation of tensions between the black community and police officers.
Floyd’s death sparked nationwide outrage that led to unrest, riots and protests – including instances of arson, looting and direct confrontations between black people and law enforcement.
Barr was seen on Monday speaking to officials monitoring Lafayette Park shortly before Trump made the trek across Pennsylvania Avenue to the boarded up church.
In clearing the park, reports revealed that law enforcement used pepper spray and nonlethal bullets to disperse the crowd.
Barr claimed Sunday morning, however, that no ‘chemical irritants’ were used.
‘No, there were not chemical irritants,’ Barr asserted in an interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation last Sunday. ‘Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. It’s not chemical.’
Pepper balls are a way to disseminate the same irritant used in pepper spray, but in nearly the same form as a paintball pellet – they are filled with a resin, either in powder or liquid form, that is derived from peppers.
While Barr said he still feels the move to use the pepper balls to clear the park was appropriate, he did not know it was going to be used for the president to participate in the photo-op.
The new statement from the Secret Service on Saturday is the latest walk back and adds to the confusion over what happened that day.
‘After further review, the U.S. Secret Service has determined that an agency employee used pepper spray on June 1st, during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park. The employee utilized oleoresin capsicum spray, or pepper spray, in response to an assaultive individual,’ the USSS asserted in its statement.
The peaceful demonstrators, gathered to protest following the death of George Floyd, were cleared from the park when Trump made a the short walk across the street from the White House for a photo-op with his bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which was set on fire by rioters the night before
Almost immediately following the outrage over the incident, Park Police, who also were involved in clearing the park, said it did not use tear gas on peaceful protesters.
Days later, a U.S. Park Police spokesperson said it was a ‘mistake’ to make that claim, while another Park Police official continued to insist the chemical was never used.
Barr also initially told reporters he had personally ordered the advance on protesters, but later backpedaled and asserted he did not give a command to disperse the crowd.
No conclusive account of what happened that day has been released by the White House, but those on the ground say rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades were used against them.