Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized on Thursday for joining President Trump in a controversial walk to St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., immediately after protesters were teargassed.
Milley, the top military official in the country, delivered the message as part of a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University.
“I should not have been there,” Milley said. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.
“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from,” added Milley, who became chairman of the Joint Chiefs in October 2019.
On June 1, after a weekend of protests following the death of George Floyd, Trump gave a brief address at the White House that coincided with live images of law enforcement attacking peaceful protesters outside the executive mansion fence. After he finished speaking, Trump made a short walk across Lafayette Square with members of his staff and Milley to St. John’s Church, which had been damaged by fire set by demonstrators.
Trump did not enter the church but posed for photos holding a Bible that his daughter Ivanka had been carrying in her purse. When asked by reporters if it was his Bible, Trump said it was “a Bible.”
At least one Episcopal priest was among those teargassed.
The Rev. Gini Gerbasi told Religion News Service that she was on the church’s patio when she and a seminarian were teargassed by police in riot gear.
“I’m there in my little pink sweater in my collar, my gray hair up in a ponytail, my reading glasses on. … I was suddenly coughing from the tear gas,” Gerbasi said.
Bishop Mariann Budde, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., said she was not informed of the president’s visit ahead of time and learned about it from watching it on television.
“I am outraged,” Budde said in a statement. “The president did not pray when he came to St. John’s; nor did he acknowledge the agony and sacred worth of people of color in our nation who rightfully demand an end to 400 years of systemic racism and white supremacy in our country.”
Evangelical leader Pat Robertson, usually a reliable Trump ally, deemed the clearing of the protesters “not cool.”
The White House has claimed that the use of tear gas against the protesters was not planned in advance but was in response to their growing violent. However, the administration has presented no evidence to back up this assertion, and video footage would seem to contradict it.
On Monday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said there were “no regrets” over the clearing of the square.
In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump suggested without evidence that the peaceful protesters outside the White House were members of antifa and that law enforcement did a “GREAT JOB” in dispersing them.
“Our great National Guard Troops who took care of the area around the White House could hardly believe how easy it was. ‘A walk in the park’ one said,” the president tweeted.
“The protesters, agitators, anarchists (ANTIFA), and others, were handled VERY easily by the Guard, D.C. Police, & S.S. GREAT JOB!”
Cover photo thumbnail: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images
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