Maj. Adam DeMarco, an Iraq veteran now serving with the D.C. National Guard, has become a whistleblower against the Trump administration’s denials that it had used tear gas — and specifically, chemical agent varieties — against Black Lives Matters protesters in Lafayette Square in a now-infamous episode on June 1.
The Washington Post reports:
DeMarco is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the House Natural Resources Committee, which is investigating the government’s actions in clearing protesters away from Lafayette Square with projectiles, gas, smoke and mounted police, including an apparent assault on Australian journalists by two Park Police officers. His statement was posted Monday on the committee’s website.
As the federal and local police waded into the protesters, DeMarco said he saw smoke being used and that he was told by a Park Police officer it was “stage smoke,” not tear gas. But DeMarco said, “I could feel irritation in my eyes and nose, and based on my previous exposure to tear gas in my training at West Point and later in my Army training, I recognized that irritation as effects consistent with CS or ‘tear gas.’" He said he found spent tear gas canisters on the street later.
The local CBS affiliate in Washington also found spent tear gas canisters at the scene, further giving the lie to the government’s claims.
CNN reported that Trump decided to tear-gas the crowd and stage the photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church because he was upset by earlier press coverage that he had been rushed into the White House’s underground bunker during earlier protests.
However, right-wing media personalities seized on early denials by the U.S. Park Police to insist that tear gas was never used at all. Such people included Fox News contributor Byron York, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, and Fox prime-time host Laura Ingraham. On her show, Ingraham called it a “lie” that tear gas was used, claiming that “not only did law enforcement not use tear gas, the supposedly ‘peaceful’ crowd may not have been.”
Trump himself tweeted an article by right-wing outlet The Federalist on June 2, carrying the denial that tear gas was used.
The Trump campaign also demanded a retraction from various outlets (even including Media Matters) of the claim that tear gas was used, hinging on a narrow parsing of words to argue that solid pepper balls — which, when combined with the smoke bombs also present, form a tear-inducing gas — did not constitute “tear gas.” (In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes pepper spray in the definition of “tear gas.”)
Fox News also waged an all-out propaganda campaign, keeping in sync with the Trump administration even as the party line kept shifting. While Fox’s early coverage glorified the use of tear gas and Trump’s walk to the church — calling it an “iconic moment” — within a day the network was parroting the administration’s denial that tear gas had been used, hinging on that supposed distinction of pepper agents.
Fox’s then-anchor Ed Henry even denied that “pepper spray and whatnot was used” at all, to which fellow news anchor Dana Perino responded: “Well, and I also think that when you're explaining ‘pepper balls’ versus ‘pepper spray,’ I mean, it's not necessarily a good one to have to do.”
And even that level of verbal quibbling was pointless because as the overwhelming mountain of evidence shows, chemical tear gas was used on top of the pepper agents — no matter how much right-wing media may try to deny it.