Without initially offering an explanation, the Secret Service late Monday ordered members of the press to leave the White House grounds as law enforcement officials in riot gear used pepper spray and batons to beat back a nearby protest at which some attempted to topple a statue of former President Andrew Jackson.
A spokesperson for the Secret Service said in a statement hours later that "four members of the media were misdirected by the Secret Service to leave the White House grounds."
"The members of the press were rerouted to exits on the south side of the complex for their own safety" as demonstrations raged in Lafayette Park, the agency spokesperson said.
CNN reported late Monday that "journalists, including two CNN employees, were told they had to leave the White House grounds immediately via the south side of the complex, which is not the normal entrance/exit for the press."
"The move to force members of the media off White House grounds is highly unusual," the outlet reported. "Typically in security situations at the White House, the press corps is locked down inside the complex."
CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports that reporters were told they had to leave the White House as police confronted protesters near the grounds:
"We were inside the White House. The Secret Service asked us to leave. I don’t think that’s ever happened..." pic.twitter.com/QZbwexPKi6
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) June 23, 2020
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered near the White House Monday as part of ongoing demonstrations sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Videos posted to social media show protesters using ropes in an attempt to pull down a statue of Jackson—the slave-owning former president responsible for the Trail of Tears—before police cleared the area using chemical irritants and batons.
#BREAKING: Protesters have opened the fence surrounding the Andrew Jackson statue in Lafayette Square and have climbed on top.
— Jess Arnold (@JessArnoldTV) June 22, 2020
How is nothing about the White House or Lafayette Park trending??
Police violently cleared the area an hour ago.
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The area named #BlackLivesMatter plaza is the scene of police brutality.
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) June 23, 2020
— Fredrick Kunkle WaPo (@KunkleFredrick) June 23, 2020
President Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed "fan" of Jackson, tweeted late Monday that "numerous people" were "arrested in D.C. for the disgraceful vandalism, in Lafayette Park, of the magnificent Statue of Andrew Jackson."
Trump went on to threaten protesters with a decade in prison "under the Veteran's Memorial Preservation Act."
"Beware!" the president added.
The Washington Post reported that "it was not immediately clear if anyone had been arrested."
"In a chaotic scene, a helicopter flew low over the park as 150 to 200 U.S. Park and D.C. police moved through," according to the Post. "Officers used a chemical irritant to disperse protesters and sweep them back to H Street NW. Protesters did smash the wooden wheels of four replica cannons at the base of the Jackson statue."