Attorney General William Barr Defends Park Police Tactics to Clear Way for Trump: 'They Were Not Peaceful Protesters'

United States Attorney General William Barr defended the use of force to disperse protesters in Washington, D.C., last Monday, saying they were "not peaceful" and had injured hundreds of law enforcement officers the previous two nights.

In an interview with CBS News' Face the Nation that aired Sunday, Barr repeatedly claimed the media is perpetuating "big lies" about the "peaceful protesters" in Lafayette Park who were dispersed with tear gas and pepper spray—just minutes before President Donald Trump held a photo-op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.

The attorney general said that local Washington D.C. police had informed the White House that the previous night was "the most violent day in Washington in 30 years." He disputed several reports and videos from the incident, saying the protesters were given three warnings to disperse and that pepper balls were used rather than tear gas.

Barr corroborated U.S. Park Police reports that protesters in the area had set fires in St. John's Church the night before in addition to scaling and destroying a historic building in Lafayette Park.

Trump last week said Barr, Ivanka Trump, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Defense Secretary Mark Esper ventured out to the church with a Bible in hand simply to witness the destruction caused by demonstrators.

"Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?" Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan asked Barr.

"They were not peaceful protesters. And that's one of the big lies that the media seems to be perpetuating at this point," he replied. "There were three warnings given."

The attorney general added: "All I heard was comments about how peaceful protesters were. I didn't hear about the fact that there were 150 law enforcement officers injured and many taken to the hospital with concussions. So it wasn't a peaceful protest. We had to get control over Lafayette Park, and we had to do it as soon as we were able to do that."

Newsweek reached out to the attorney general's office Sunday for any additional remarks over the incident.

Park Police on Tuesday issued a statement saying "violent protesters" were throwing projectiles including bricks, caustic liquids and frozen water bottles at federal law enforcement officers prior to the use of pepper balls and smoke canisters.

Barr and host Brennan also briefly parsed out the difference between the terms "protester" versus "rioter" versus "looter."

The attorney general accused some protesters of breaking into the Treasury Department and were injuring police the night before Trump's visit to Lafayette Park, something he said "has been totally obscured by the media."

Barr went on to defend Trump's insistence he has the authority to deploy military troops anywhere in the United States. He cited the Insurrection Act in explaining the president "absolutely" has the legal authority to unilaterally send active duty troops to any state—even if a governor opposes such a move. He said the Confederacy opposed using federal troops to restore order in the pre-Civil War era "so the federal government sometimes doesn't listen to governors in certain circumstances."

Barr said he does believe "there's racism in the United States," before adding that he doesn't "think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist."

Some Republican senators, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, have also defended the aggressive police tactics against the protesters. "There had to be action taken. These folks are professionals at what they're doing, these protesters," Rubio said.

bill barr lafayette park protest
Barr on Sunday repeatedly claimed the media is perpetuating "big lies" about the "peaceful protesters" in Lafayette Park last week, who were dispersed with tear gas and pepper spray just minutes before President Donald Trump held a photo-op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / Contributor/Getty Images