Members of Congress are holding a hearing to examine the forced removal of peaceful protesters by U.S. Park Police near the White House in early June.
The incident took place following a speech President Trump gave where he threatened to deploy the military to cities that weren't suppressing violence during protests. Police — which also included other elements of federal law enforcement, the Washington, D.C., National Guard and the Arlington County Police — then cleared a crowd of demonstrators protesting white supremacy and police brutality in order for Trump to have a clear path to walk across Lafayette Square to pose for a photo-op holding a Bible in front of St. John's Church.
"Peaceful protesters, church and press all fell victim to this administration's violent and senseless operation," Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Raúl M. Grijalva said in his opening statement. "Remarkably, these victims also embody our three main freedoms protected by the First Amendment: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press."
Testifying before the committee is Kishon McDonald, a 39-year-old Washington resident and Navy veteran who was present at the protest and has joined a lawsuit with other demonstrators against the Trump administration for allegedly violating their constitutional rights.
"They got very close to us in a threatening kind of way," McDonald said of the Park Police. "They gave no instructions and [it was just] a show of force. We stood our ground. We told them we were peaceful we wanted no trouble. We were met with silence. At no time did I hear any instructions to move, and if we did hear instructions, I would have moved."
McDonald described the panic that took over the demonstrators as police began to advance and deploy the use of tear gas and batons.
"We [were] in front of the most powerful governing house in the world. Its citizens who are being attacked by their own government, were just asking and protesting for change. I was scared, confused and angry," he said.
"I served this country, so that everyone could enjoy the freedoms granted to us under this constitution. If anyone had the right to be there, it was me," McDonald said.
Also expected to testify are Amelia Brace, an Australian journalist who reported on the scene, George Washington Law School professor Jonathan Turley, and Right Rev. Mariann Budde Bishop, who oversees St. John's.
Ranking member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, referred to the hearing as "political theater," noting that no members of the Park Police were present to testify.
"The Democrats here have now produced something that's not going to be substantive, that is not going to be historical, that is really a distraction," Bishop said.
Trump's presumptive opponent in the general election, former Vice President Joe Biden, has condemned Trump's response to the protests, saying, "When peaceful protesters are dispersed by the order of the president from the doorstep of the people's house, the White House — using tear gas and flash grenades — in order to stage a photo-op at a noble church, we can be forgiven for believing that the president is more interested in power than in principle."