Bishop 'outraged' after tear gas used on crowds before Trump church photo op

A bishop in the US has said she is "outraged" after tear gas was used to clear protesters ahead of President Donald Trump visiting a church to pose for photos while holding a bible.

Thousands of protesters had gathered at Lafayette Park by the White House in Washington DC on Monday - as part of demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Shortly before Mr Trump made an address to the nation, police officers fired tear gas and flash bangs to disperse the peaceful protest.

ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore described the scene as "some of the most aggressive policing I have yet seen here".

Donald Trump walked to the church to pose for photos, holding a bible aloft. Credit: AP

At the church - which had been damaged by protesters on Sunday night - Mr Trump held up a bible and gathered a group of advisers to pose for photos.

He did not comment on Mr Floyd, the church or the clearing of the protesters but did say: "We have a great country, the greatest country in the world."

The Rt Rev Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, to which St John's belongs, said she was "outraged" by Mr Trump's actions and said the president did not pray during his visit.

She said: "He took the symbols sacred to our tradition and stood in front of a house of prayer in full expectation that would be a celebratory moment."

It comes as the president threatened to deploy the military if US state governors did not stop ongoing protests across the country.

The bishop added: "There was nothing I could do but speak out against that."

Speaking to American broadcaster CNN, she added: "Let me be clear, the president just used a bible, and one of the churches of my diocese, without permission, as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for."

The Rt Rev Mariann Budde said Mr Trump "sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the churchyard. I am outraged."

Unrest has spread across the US over the past six days, sparked by the death of Mr Floyd in Minneapolis - curfews have now been imposed in many cities as people protest over police violence and killings of black people.

  • Protesters are cleared by police ahead of Mr Trump's visit to the church:

The director of strategic communications for Mr Trump's 2020 re-election campaign defended the clearing of the protesters so the president could visit the church and accused the BBC of bias.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme if it was right protesters were forcibly cleared so the president could hold up a bible as a prop, Marc Lotter said: "I understand that's the liberal point of view, that's your biased point of view.

"But what I'll tell you is that the very night before that, people standing in that exact same park set a historic church on fire - that was not a peaceful protest.

"And so it's absolutely the appropriate act of the United States Secret Service and the police to create a perimeter around the White House to make sure that there's security, that we're not having our national historic sites set on fire."

The president and members of his staff walked from the White House to the church for the photo op. Credit: AP

Mr Lotter said that as a curfew was being imposed on Washington DC, the protesters were being moved further away.

He added: "It's not unusual to move protesters or to move groups of folks away from our elected leaders even in times where we're not facing these kinds of things.

"So that was the appropriate move to start to dissipate those crowds to start to reduce the likelihood that there was going to be further damage, violence, rioters."