Eyewitness account: Robert Moore watches chaos engulf Washington amid nationwide fury

The unrest - the fury - has arrived at the gates of the White House.

Through the night, protesters screamed their anger at the phalanx of police, secret service officers and National Guardsmen who were lined up to protect the President.

The protests that were spawned in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd have now reached the nation’s capital.

For hours on Saturday night, we witnessed tear gas and pepper spray wafting across historic Lafayette Square.

Hundreds of activists from Black Lives Matter were gathered to demand justice and to denounce what they regard as systematic police brutality towards their community.

  • Reporting from outside the White House on Saturday night, Robert Moore says protesters say they are 'appalled that they have a president who doesn't appear in his language or his tweets to be attempting to bridge the epic racial divide in this country'

This was just one of many protests that have ricocheted across American cities over the last few days. This is now becoming a long hot summer of discontent, and some older activists I spoke to are comparing it to 1968.

Twenty five cities were under curfew last night. The National Guard is patrolling the streets of Los Angeles.

New York saw sustained protests and a shocking scene when a police vehicle appeared to run over multiple protesters.

  • When America looks in the mirror it sees "racism, hypocrisy, dividedness... a lot of pain", protesters outside the White House told Robert Moore on Saturday night

There were extraordinary scenes in many cities across America.

In the suburbs of Minneapolis - in an entirely residential neighbourhood - police could be seen moving aggressively down the streets ordering people inside and firing pepper spray at some residents.

In Flint in Michigan, a local police chief was filmed saying he was putting down his baton, and wanted to join demonstrators. “I want this to be a parade, not a protest,” he told activists.

  • Robert Moore updates on the latest situation in America

But the more typical response was aggressive.

America suddenly feels vulnerable. It’s not just the racial turmoil.

It’s also the pandemic that has cost 100,000 lives.

It’s the tens of millions of citizens who have lost their job as the economy is derailed by the virus.

And, not least, it’s the presidency of Donald Trump.

Whatever you think of his leadership, his ability to exacerbate divisions, pour fuel on the fire of existing racial tensions, and to provoke the left is uncanny.

The combination of all these issues is putting America on a knife edge.

America suddenly feels vulnerable and it is not just the racial turmoil. Credit: AP

I saw it with my own eyes overnight.

I watched protesters begging and imploring police to hand in their guns and badges, and to change sides.

I listened to African Americans almost in tears as they related to me their fear and distrust of the police.

America is not broken by this combination of events and crises. But it is fragile, and its inherent optimism is being tested in a way that hasn’t been seen for a generation.

Protests have erupted across the USA after the death of a black man in police custody. Credit: AP