The Secret Service reversed an earlier claim and admitted Saturday that it did use pepper spray on protesters to clear the way before President Donald Trump held aloft a Bible outside a church for a photo op nearly two weeks ago.
“After further review, the U.S. Secret Service has determined that an agency employee used pepper spray on June 1st to secure the area near Lafayette Parks,” said the new statement. The oleoresin capsicum spray was “used in response to an assaultive individual,” the statement added. Details about the behavior were not provided.
Last week the agency insisted that “no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers pepper spray a “riot control agent,” which it notes is “sometimes referred to as ‘tear gas’” — along with compounds more widely associated with tear gas, including chloroacetophenone (CN) and chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile (CS).
The U.S. Park Police also initially denied using tear gas. But a spokesman later said it was a “mistake” to say “tear gas” wasn’t used, because the pepper balls officers fired burn and make it difficult for targets to breathe.
Following the Secret Service reversal, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement noting that “once again, yet another federal agency is pulling back yet another lie meant to cover up the administration’s unlawful firing of tear gas and other weapons outside the White House on June 1.”
Critics erupted after the brutal law enforcement crackdown on anti-racism protesters that evening to clear the way way so Trump could pose with a Bible at St. John’s Episcopal Church across the street from the White House. The ACLU and Black Lives Matter have sued the Trump administration for what they labeled an “unconstitutional” and “frankly criminal attack” that evening.
Cell phone and media videos of the crackdown showed peaceful protesters struck with batons and shields, manhandled by law enforcement, and apparently gassed.
Attorney General William Barr, who ordered the removal of the protesters before Trump’s photo op, insisted in an interview last week that pepper spray is “not a chemical irritant.” He also claimed protesters were “not peaceful,” though that’s not supported by extensive video coverage of law enforcement action.