It was a made-for-TV moment.
President Donald Trump, Bible in hand, posing in front of the historic St. John’s Church a block from the White House Monday night, the day after the church’s basement apparently was set on fire by protesters.
It came at a cost.
Demonstrators who had been peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights in protesting the death of George Floyd and racial injustice in policing were pushed back, forcibly, with the use of flash-bangs and what they described as tear gas to make way for the president. The next day, the U.S. Park Police said it and other agencies had not used the gas, but rather that it used smoke canisters and pepper balls.
Police also used horses, shields and batons to beat back the demonstrators. Washington's mayor said law enforcement deployed "munitions."
The morning after the photo op, which has been roundly criticized, Trump found no cause for regret as he posted on Twitter with his praise for the night’s events, that included the presence of hundreds of law enforcement and National Guards troops in front of the White House.
"D.C. had no problems last night,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination.”
The president directly congratulated himself for what was a quieter evening than those over the weekend in both the nation’s capital and Minneapolis, writing: “Thank you President Trump!”
D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
But even as the president congratulated himself, many others found cause for condemnation.
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was “outraged” by the president’s use of the historic episcopal church as a backdrop after breaking up the peaceful demonstration
The Rev. Mariann Budde, the diocesan bishop who oversees St. John's Church, said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the president's photo-op was "as if it were spiritual validation and justification for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and to the God of justice."
“That is not, quote, her church, that is not, quote, her Bible,” counselor to the president KellyAnne Conway said in an interview with Fox News Tuesday. “We don’t look into other people’s hearts and souls and discern and judge what their faith is, why the president felt compelled to walk there, why he held that Bible up.”
Defending the president’s church photo op, she said, “that is a symbol to everyone that we will not allow arsonists and anarchists who set that fire ablaze … we won’t let them to dissuade us from practicing our religion.”
Trump on Tuesday morning also visited the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington to lay a wreath in honor of the former Pope's 100th birthday and later was to sign an executive order the White House said would "advance international religious freedom."
Just before he arrived, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Wilton D. Gregory, the nation's most senior African American bishop, issued a blistering statement along the same lines as his Episcopal counterpart, saying the Shrine, which he does not oversee, was also being "misused" by Trump.
"I find it baffling and reprehensible that any Catholic facility would allow itself to be so egregiously misused and manipulated in a fashion that violates our religious principles, which call us to defend the rights of all people even those with whom we might disagree," Gregory said.
"Saint Pope John Paul II was an ardent defender of the rights and dignity of human beings. His legacy bears vivid witness to that truth. He certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday also condemned the night's event, expressing dismay that police "came out and beat" protesters to clear the way for the president.
"What is that? That has no place and it's time for us to do away with that," said Pelosi.
Noting how Trump, as he stood in front of St. John's Church, held up a Bible, held up her own copy of the Bible in front of cameras and read several passages from the book of Ecclesiastes calling for healing.
Pelosi said President Trump "has the responsibility to heal" and used the moment to highlight the stark contrast between Trump's own words about the national protests versus what the presidents before him have said.
"We would hope that the president of the United States would follow the lead of so many other presidents before him and be a healer-in-chief, and not a fanner of the flame," Pelosi said.
After police used tear gas and pushed back peaceful protesters for Trump’s church visit, Pelosi reads from the Bible.June 2, 2020
Later Tuesday, amid all the racial tension gripping the country, Trump, as he's done before, compared himself to Abraham Lincoln, tweeting,
"My Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln. Passed Opportunity Zones with @SenatorTimScott, guaranteed funding for HBCU’s, School Choice, passed Criminal Justice Reform, lowest Black unemployment, poverty, and crime rates in history… AND THE BEST IS YET TO COME!"
My Admin has done more for the Black Community than any President since Abraham Lincoln. Passed Opportunity Zones with @SenatorTimScott, guaranteed funding for HBCU’s, School Choice, passed Criminal Justice Reform, lowest Black unemployment, poverty, and crime rates in history…— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the U.S. Park Police that was released on Tuesday about the measures used to clear protesters from Lafayette Park on Monday.