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Nat’l Guard officer testifies he was ‘disturbed’ by ‘excessive force against White House protesters’

Demonstrators protest against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
July 28, 2020

A U.S. Army National Guard major who served as the liaison between National Guardsmen and federal officers protecting the White House testified about concerns he had with federal officers clearing protesters out of Lafayette Square during a controversial June 1 incident.

National Guard Maj. Adam DeMarco and U.S. National Park Police acting chief Gregory Monahan both testified before the House Natural Resource Committee regarding a June 1 incident in which police cleared protesters out of Lafayette Square. While Monahan defended the police action, DeMarco expressed concerns about the use of force involved.

“The events I witnessed at Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1st were deeply disturbing to me and fellow National Guardsmen,” DeMarco testified.

“Based on my training and experience, at no time did I feel threatened by the protesters or assess them to be violent,” DeMarco continued his testimony. “Based on established U.S. military protocols concerning proportionality of force in dealing with civil disturbances, both within the U.S. and overseas, it was my observation that the use of force against demonstrators in the clearing operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force.”

DeMarco said the people protesting peacefully outside the White House were “subjected to an unprovoked escalation and the excessive use of force.”

The controversial incident occurred the same evening President Donald Trump delivered an address in which he called on states to activate their National Guard units to respond to civil unrest following the then-recent death of a Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody. The efforts to clear the area outside the White House were ongoing as Trump delivered his address and upon concluding his remarks, Trump walked across Lafayette Square to visit a historic St. John’s Episcopal church across the block, which had burned and damaged by rioting the night prior.

Critics of the incident have accused Trump of using the strong police clearing effort to provide him with a political photo opportunity. Monahan, by contrast, testified the clearing operation had nothing to do with Trump’s decision to visit St. John’s Episcopal church and there was an existing plan to close off streets around the White House. Monahan also testified that protesters had been warned to disperse prior to the police clearing effort.

DeMarco also testified he did not believe warnings over loudspeakers for protesters to disperse were audible from the crowd and that protesters were behaving peacefully when police began the clearing operation.

U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr also testified about the June 1 protest incident at a separate hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and during a heated exchange with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) Barr said DeMarco was not involved in the decision making leading up to incident.