Longtime Donald Trump aide Hope Hicks has been identified as having helped hatch the plan to have the president walk across the street from the White House to pose in front of St. John’s church – staged event that police and National Guard forces facilitated by using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear away peaceful protesters.
The move was conceived as a way to allow Trump to demonstrate his self-proclaimed role as the ‘law and order president’ and – came after the president vowed to use the military to restore order in cities across the country.
As a PR move it may have backfired, after global and national media broadcast images of shield-bearing and mounted police using force to clear Lafayette Park, an area whose use as a forum for demonstrations and speech has long been protected.
Hicks accompanied Trump as he walked across Lafayette Park to pose at the church. Media who accompanied them reported the taste of tear gas still lingering in the air.
Mariann Budde, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington which oversees the church, said she was ‘outraged’ by the action. ‘The president cleared the park and courtyard of our church… stood in front of St Johns as if it were spiritual validation and justification for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and God of justice,’ she said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had ordered a 7 pm curfew Monday, said she was ‘shocked’ that people who didn’t seem to provoke attack were ‘attacked’ by federal law enforcement who cleared the way for Trump.
The walk outside the White House gates – the first as president by the heavily-guarded Trump – came after he had been confined at home for more than a day.
Trump had been upset by the disclosure that Secret Service had taken him to bunker deep beneath the White House as police clashed with protesters Friday night, the Washington Post reported, and wondered why someone would disclose it to the press.
Although he was not there long, it clashed with the image of strength Trump usually likes to put forward.
Although Trump traveled to Florida to watch a rocket launch Saturday and addressed the death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers, he had not been seen since a new wave of protest and violence erupted that night.
Facing pressure to deliver a White House address, Trump instead decided to walk past a graffiti-sprayed maintenance shack and tour the historic church, which had been scarred by fire amidst a spree of vandalism and looting Sunday night. The D.C. fire department was able to put out a blaze that broke out in the basement of the parish house adjacent to the church.
Longtime GOP operative Brendan Buck, a former spokesman for Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan when he was a vice presidential nominee, blasted the decision.
‘We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act,” he said.
“The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten,’ he said, the Washington Post reported. He earlier tweeted what happened is ‘immoral and abusive.’
Hicks was Trump’s longtime press aide, following him from the Trump Organization to the White House. She served as White House Communications Director before leaving to take a position with the Fox Corporation, then returning as a counselor to the president this year.
Rival former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday blasted Trump’s trip to the church ‘in order to stage a photo-op,’ and saying: ‘We can be forgiven for believing the president is more interested in power than in principle.’
‘The president held up the bible at St. John’s church yesterday. I just wish he opened it once in a while instead of brandishing it,’ Biden continued. ‘He’s preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that are protecting our democracy,’ Biden said.
Shortly before he left the White House grounds Monday to visit the church at 7:03 pm, Trump said from the Rose Garden he was ‘taking swift and decisive action to protect our great capital, Washington, D.C.’
‘What happened in this city last night was a total disgrace. As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property,’ Trump said.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Geoff Earle