Reverend Says She Was Tear-Gassed Outside White House So Trump Could 'Hold a Bible and Look Christian'

A peaceful protest in Washington's Lafayette Park was disrupted for President Donald Trump's photo-op outside the historic St. John's Episcopal Church on Monday after members of the U.S. Park Police and the National Guard used tear gas and concussion grenades to clear out the crowd.

Rev. Gini Gerbasi, a former assistant rector of St. John's during the Obama administration who has since been transferred to a sister church in Georgetown, was distributing medical supplies to protesters when troops and police arrived without advanced warning and drove protesters out of the area.

"I was coughing with tear gas in my clergy collar, and my gray hair, and my old lady reading glasses, so that that man could stand there and hold a Bible in his hand and look Christian," Gerbasi said in a WUSA report. "And it would be far more Christian if he would behave according to the words in that book instead of just carrying it around with him as a prop."

President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty

Trump, who was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, and Attorney General William Barr, strolled through the park to the steps of the boarded-up church where staff members had kept watch over the 200-year-old parish after the basement had been set on fire. They had lent support to protesters for several days.

Minutes earlier, Trump had delivered a speech in the White House declaring himself "your president of law and order" and demanding that governors take a hard line against protesters and deploy National Guard units in every state and threatening he'd intervene with federal forces if they didn't.

"Those who threaten innocent life and property will be arrested, detained, and prosecuted, to the fullest extent of the law," he said. "I want the organizers of this terror to be on notice that you will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail. This includes Antifa and others leading instigators of this. One law and order and that is what it is, one law, we have one beautiful law."

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, who has oversight responsibilities for the church, said she was angered by Trump's unannounced visit.

She told NPR that Trump never offered a prayer or words of unity, and instead used the Holy Bible and the church as a prop to push a partisan agenda.

"That is the most sacred text of the Judeo-Christian tradition," she said. "It speaks messages of love, of God, love of neighbor. I was outraged that he felt that he had the license to do that and that he would abuse our sacred symbols and our sacred space in that way."