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National Guard Officer Says Police Used ‘Excessive’ Force at White House Clash

WASHINGTON — An Army National Guard officer who was called in to enforce the crackdown on protests in Lafayette Square last month will tell lawmakers that the demonstrators were peaceful and “subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force,” according to written testimony made public on Monday.

Maj. Adam DeMarco, an Iraq war veteran who currently serves in the District of Columbia National Guard, will testify on Tuesday before a House panel investigating the clash, giving the latest account of how Park Police and Secret Service officers violently cleared protesters away from the White House. He intends to testify that the harsh actions were taken without provocation or adequate warning just before President Trump walked through the area with senior administration officials to stage a photo event in front of a historic church.

“From my observation, those demonstrators — our fellow American citizens — were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights,” Major DeMarco will say, according to the advance text of his remarks. “Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.”

The shocking clash on June 1, yards from the White House, produced stunning images as mounted police and riot officers routed demonstrators with smoke, flash grenades and tear gas, minutes after Mr. Trump declared himself “your president of law and order” and “an ally of all peaceful protesters.” Those events have prompted lawmakers, infuriated by the violent scene, to investigate who ordered the attack on protesters and why.

The reckoning has been particularly acute in the military. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the nation’s top military officer, publicly apologized for taking part in the president’s photo op. Members of the District of Columbia National Guard — a majority of whose personnel are people of color — have both publicly and privately lamented their role in the protests.

The District of Columbia National Guard, typically deployed to help after natural disasters or to assist with managing crowds and logistics support for large public events in the capital, was called in with Guard units from other states to help respond to the growing protests in front of the White House in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd and other Black Americans.

The Guard’s job on June 1 was not to clear protesters, Major DeMarco will say, according to the text, but to “hold a static line,” establishing a new security perimeter around the White House.

But he was taken aback, according to his testimony, when the Park Police began issuing orders to protesters to evacuate the park 40 minutes before the city’s curfew began.

“From where I was standing, approximately 20 yards from the demonstrators, the announcements were barely audible,” Major DeMarco says, “and I saw no indication that the demonstrators were cognizant of the warnings to disperse.”

Major DeMarco said that a liaison officer for the Park Police told him that no tear gas was being deployed against the protesters, but that he felt “irritation in my eyes and nose” that he identified as tear gas. Later, he saw tear gas canisters on the street. The Park Police initially denied that it had been used against protesters, and then claimed the statement was a “mistake.”

Major DeMarco also noted that the equipment to build a barrier around the White House — the stated reason for clearing the protesters — did not arrive until 9 p.m., more than two hours after the evacuation order was given. He called the episode “deeply disturbing.”

Gregory T. Monahan, the acting chief of the Park Police, will testify on Tuesday before the House Committee on Natural Resources, along with Major DeMarco.

The episode at Lafayette Square is the latest controversy for the Park Police, which prosecutors and defense lawyers say has a reputation for fostering a culture of recklessness. As a U.S. Park Police patrol officer nearly two decades ago, Mr. Monahan was accused of conducting unlawful body cavity searches and providing unreliable testimony.

A spokeswoman for the National Park Service said the allegations were investigated and “determined to be unfounded.”

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