Trump claimed no 'tear gas' was used on White House protesters — now a US official says that was based on a 'mistake'

Trump claimed no 'tear gas' was used on White House protesters — now a US official says that was based on a 'mistake'
Rosa Pineda / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

U.S. Park Police walked back its claim on Friday that no "tear gas" was used to clear protesters in front of the White House before President Donald Trump crossed the street for his ill-fated photo-op on Monday.


The president and his allies had used the claim that there hadn't been any tear gas used to hit back against critics in the media and elsewhere, who argued it was inappropriate and abusive to clear the street of peaceful protesters. (Trump supporters also argued, with little supportive evidence and extensive reporting to the contrary, that the protest had become violent.)

But Sgt. Eduardo Delgado of the Park Police told Vox on Friday that it was a "mistake" for the department to have previously claimed that tear gas wasn't used, in addition to the smoke bombs, brute force, and rubber projectiles that struck protesters.

He said that the police used smoke and "pepper balls" to disperse the crowd. Originally, the department had denied using "tear gas," as many reporters and protesters on the scene had claimed were used based on their first-person experiences.

“The point is we admitted to using what we used,” Delgado told Vox. “I think the term ‘tear gas’ doesn’t even matter anymore. It was a mistake on our part for using ‘tear gas’ because we just assumed people would think CS or CN,” referring to two common types of tear gas.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses a broad definition of "tear gas," or "riot control agents," which it says are "chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin." This includes the pepper balls, which sprays a natural irritant at targets.

Many pointed out at the time of the Park Police's first statement denying use of "tear gas" was obviously misleading. But Trump and his right-wing defenders jumped on it. Most prominently, Federalist writer Mollie Hemingway wrote a piece, shared by the president, accusing the media of falsely reporting that tear gas was used, even though the crowd was exposed to gases and compounds that clearly caused tears and severe irritation. The Trump campaign put out a statement addressing what it called the "'tear gas' lie."

“I’m not going to say that pepper balls don’t irritate you,” Delgado said in the interview with Vox. “I’m not saying it’s not a tear gas, but I’m just saying we use a pepper ball that shoots a powder.”

Even the specific denial that the form of tear gas known as CS wasn't used appears to be false. Though all the agencies on the scene in addition to the Park Police, including the Secret Service, denied using CS, a reporting team found used canisters of the substance at the scene of the event shortly after the officers moved through.

But all this is meant to obscure from the plain facts. The federal government used excessive, unnecessary, and violent force to attack and drive out peaceful protesters demonstrating in front of the White House. This was a plain abuse of power, and it demands swift and severe accountability and consequences.

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