Major Adam DeMarco testified in front of the House Natural Resources Committee Tuesday about what he says was excessive force used by law enforcement against protestors at Layfayette Square in Washington D.C on June 1st.
The episode drew criticism after reports from witnesses and the media said law enforcement used tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters.
Here is what you need to know:
1. DeMarco Says He Was Told By U.S. Park Police No Tear Gas Would Be Used On Protesters, But It Was, Along With Pepper Balls
The D.C National Guard was activated to Lafayette Square a couple of days ahead of June 1st to “help respond to ongoing civil disturbances,” and assist U.S. Park Police, who had been dealing with George Floyd protestors for days prior, according to DeMarco’s released testimony.
DeMarco said he was told that the role of the National Guard would be to go behind Park Police as they cleared protestors after 7 pm due to a mandated curfew at the time, and make sure everyone was cleared out, then hold the line.
DeMarco said he saw that some Park Police officers had tear gas, but was told no tear gas would be used when he asked a Park Police liaison about it specifically.
Yet, DeMarco wrote in his testimony:
As the clearing operation began, I heard explosions and saw smoke being used to disperse the protestors. The Park Police liaison officer told me that the explosions were “stage smoke,” and that no tear gas was being deployed against the demonstrators. But I could feel irritation in my eyes and nose, and based on my previous exposure to tear gas in my training at West Point and later in my Army training, I recognized that irritation as effects consistent with CS or “tear gas.” And later that evening, I found spent tear gas cannisters on the street nearby.
He says a little while after the tear gas was used “unidentified law enforcement personnel behind our National Guardsmen [were] using ‘paintball-like’ weapons to discharge what I later learned to be “pepper balls” into the crowd, as demonstrators continued to retreat.”
2. DeMarco’s Testimony Said That He’s Been in Combat Zones & Knows How to Assess ‘Threat Environments,’ & From What He Saw, Protestors ‘Were Engaged in the Peaceful Expression of Their First Amendment Rights’
According to DeMarco’s LinkedIn page, he’s been with the D.C National Guard since Nov. 2019 after serving five years of active duty in the Army. He was deployed overseas in “support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Inherent Resolve” and said In 2014, he “transitioned from active duty and began my career in consulting, mainly focusing on strategy development and operational implementation for public sector clients.”
His testimony explains that because of his experience in war zones he understands what to look for regarding potential violence. His written statement about what transpired at Lafayette Square that evening said:
The events I witnessed at Lafayette Square on the evening of June 1 were deeply disturbing to me, and to fellow National Guardsmen. Having served in a combat zone, and understanding how to assess threat environments, at no time did I feel threatened by the protestors or assess them to be violent. In addition, considering the principles of proportionality of force and the fundamental strategy of graduated responses specific to civil disturbance operations, it was my observation that the use of force against demonstrators in the clearing operation was an unnecessary escalation of the use of force. From my observation, those demonstrators – our fellow American citizens — were engaged in the peaceful expression of their First Amendment rights. Yet they were subjected to an unprovoked escalation and excessive use of force.
3. DeMarco Said He Saw Civil Disturbance Unit Members Using Their ‘Shields Offensively as Weapons’
In DeMarco’s Testimony, he wrote that he wasn’t clear on why law enforcement agencies started taking extreme measures to clear what he considered peaceful protestors.
For one thing, the curfew at that time was 7 pm and police started clearing demonstrators at 6:20 pm. DeMarco said three announcements were made through a megaphone that people should disperse, yet his testimony says those orders were “barely audible” where he was standing 20 yards from the protestors. He said it didn’t seem like they heard the announcements at all.
Then Demarco said at 6:30 pm, the Park Police began “the clearing operation.” Civil
Disturbance Units and horse-mounted officers led the operation. According to DeMarco The Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies he couldn’t identify also worked to get the protestors to disperse.
DeMarco said, “No National Guard personnel participated in the push or engaged in any other use of force against the demonstrators.”
But according to DeMarco’s testimony, some officers were using their shields as weapons:
As the horses began to travel, herding the protestors out of the square, they stopped in the vicinity of St. John’s Church and the Park Police’s Civil Disturbance Unit then took the lead and pushed the demonstrators further down H Street. From my vantage point, I saw demonstrators scattering and fleeing as the Civil Disturbance Unit charged toward them. I observed people fall to the ground as some Civil Disturbance Unit members used their shields offensively as weapons.
It was during this time that DeMarco says police were behind National Guard troops shooting at protesters with pepper balls.
4. After the Demonstrators Were Forcibly Cleared, DeMarco Said President Donald Trump Showed Up & it was a ‘Complete Surprise’
DeMarco said by about 7:05 the protestors had been successfully cleared and that’s when he said, “I saw the President walking onto H Street from Lafayette Square, near St. John’s Church, accompanied by his security detail. The President’s arrival was a complete surprise, as we had not been briefed that he would enter our sector.”
The excessive efforts to disperse the protestors may have come after a plan went awry for President Trump to carry a bible to St. Johns Church in Lafayette Square that had been burned by protesters the previous night. The idea was for a pseudo-spontaneous photo-op, but the timing wasn’t working out as planned because protesters were still in the area, according to The New York Times.
The paper reported that Attorney General William P. Barr gave the order to clear out the protesters to make way for the President. Trump had a plan to declare himself “your president of law and order” but also “an ally of all peaceful protesters” while holding a bible up and standing in front of the historical church.
DeMarco Said He Had To Speak Out About the Events at Lafayette Square for Moral & Ethical Reasons, Quoting John Lewis
In DeMarco’s written statement he quoted the late Representative and civil rights activist John Lewis, who said, “When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something.”
DeMarco said his both oath to the military and what he’s learned through that institution are what informs his moral and ethical compass.
The oath I swore as a military officer, to support and defend the Constitution of theUnited States, is a bedrock guiding principle and, for me, constitutes an individual moral commitment and ethical instruction. It is the foundation of the trust safely placed in the Armed Forces by the American people. And it compels me to say something – and do something – about what I witnessed on June 1 at Lafayette Square.