The moment we’ve been dreading since that escalator ride down Trump Tower five years ago this month — that’s been slowly building brick by brick as Donald Trump tore down the rule of law, abused the presidency to enrich himself, and grabbed the bully pulpit of the White House to divide America with racism, sexism and xenophobia — finally came at 6:45 p.m. as the sun sank over Washington on the night of June 1, 2020.
Backed into a corner after his incompetence and distrust in science was trampled by a virus that’s killed 105,000 Americans, compounded by 40 million unemployed, and now massive, chaotic protests over the police brutality and racism that he has nurtured instead of combating, the president of the United States declared war on the American people.
Speaking from the Rose Garden as a flash-bang grenade deployed against peaceful protesters echoed from across the street, Trump sounded almost like a satire of a tinhorn dictator as he vowed to “dominate the streets” while invoking an ancient law, the Insurrection Act of 1807, and threatening to use the U.S. military to end the nationwide protests and growing unrest over the killing of an unarmed 46-year-old black man, George Floyd, at the hands of four Minneapolis cops.
Here's the moment where police fired teargas into a crowd of peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, just minutes before Trump's address in the Rose Garden. pic.twitter.com/KPjxMKdDyx
— Cameron Peters (@jcameronpeters) June 1, 2020
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“Did you see that?” a protester, his face covered in a red mask, screamed as he ran past a CNN camera crew, fleeing the projectiles and the gas. “Like we’re nothing!” It was an obviously staged moment, a reality-TV president unleashing all-too-real-life violence against American citizens who were peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to protest — all for the purpose of creating what he thought was the perfect photo op.
Indeed, the shocking military action to clear the streets allowed the president — who hasn’t been near a church in weeks, and who hasn’t reached out to console any family devastated by the coronavirus — to walk across the street to partially fire-damaged St. John’s Episcopal Church. There, he awkwardly held a Bible aloft, which only served as a reminder of the famous quote of unknown provenance that when fascism finally comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross. (The Episcopal bishop of D.C. said Trump never sought permission and that she was “outraged” by the photo op and the tear gas that enabled it.)