Donald Trump faced Republican criticism and a rare reprimand from a former top military officer after police used tear gas on peaceful protesters Monday to clear the way for the US president to leave the White House and pose for a picture holding a Bible in front a church nearby.
After threatening to deploy soldiers on U.S. streets on Monday, Trump walked from the White House across Lafayette Square to St. John & # 39; s Episcopal Church and held a copy of the Bible for the cameras in what is largely was panning like an advertising stunt.
Trump was joined by top officials, including General Mark Milley, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were fighting. Police had dispersed the crowd on Lafayette Square protesting George Floyd's death.
"I am opposed to clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo-op that treats the word of God as a political prop," said Ben Sasse, a Republican senator in Nebraska.
Mike Mullen, a retired admiral who was chairman of the joint chiefs of George W Bush and Barack Obama, took the rare step of publicly saying he had become "sick" to see security personnel "forcibly and violently clearing a road … to accommodate the president's visit outside St. John's Church. "
" Whatever Trump's goal of conducting the visit, he merely despised the rights of peaceful protest in this country, supported the leaders of others countries that take comfort in our domestic strife and risk further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces, "Mullen said.
Critics also targeted Mark Esper, the Secretary of Defense, and in particular Gen Milley for let yourself be associated with a political event.
Michael Hayden, a retired general and former CIA director, said he was "horrified" to see Gen Milley in combat on Monday. A defender said Gen Milley did not know what Trump had planned.
Trump was also criticized by Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, who told Politico that he disagreed with the move. Should you use tear gas to clear a road so the president can take a photo-op? The answer is no, "said the South Carolinian.
Brendan Buck, who served as an aide to former Republican speaker in the House, said that even in an era of outbreaks, what Trump had done was" immoral ". [1
Trump came under more fire on Tuesday over a visit to the Saint John Paul II Sanctuary in Washington. Archbishop Wilton Gregory said it was "reprehensible that any Catholic establishment would allow itself to be so violently abused and manipulated."
He added that Saint Pope John Paul II "would not condole the use of tear gas and other deterrents to pose, disperse or intimidate them for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace".
Joe Biden, the former Democratic US vice president who will face Trump in November, slammed the president, saying he would not "traffic in fear and divisiveness" or "fan the flames of hatred."
"I will seek to heal the racial wounds for so long has plagued this country – don't use them for political gain, "he said.
Democrats in conservative districts that Trump won in 2016 also threw the president. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who represented a Virginia district, said that the president engaged in behavior seen in authoritarian nations.
"The president … ordered tear gas and rubber bullets shot at peaceful protesters and members of the free press for the sake of a photo-op," she said.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi