Saintly Scr3w Ups

Ya know, some days I hate social media. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we are bombarded by an unending tide of information from the inane food snaps to the serious reports of crimes or disasters to every single time President Donald J Trump sneezes that will for days after be either the source of his racist dictator ways or a sign of his glory depending on if you agree with him or not. Because heaven forbid a person be somewhere in the middle. 

I’m joking with that last sentence but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the average Twitter feed or Facebook group. For a society that has spent the last 50 some odd years screaming that there are no moral absolutes you wouldn’t know that’s the common opinion based on how people act. But that isn’t my focus today. 

Today I’m going to be looking at the St. John’s church debacle. Why? Because I’m in the middle of a Twitter discussion on the topic and the more I look up resources, the more I find that I don’t have the space in 260 characters to say what I need. That’s one of the problems with our instant media. 

As Tim Murtaugh, Trump’s communications director, said in an interview, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on.” (5) That’s the other reason this topic needs to be addressed: when all you have are shouted half truths from what it looks like on camera or one person’s side of the story, you wind up spreading what becomes a lie. Sometimes, it’s an accident. Other times, it’s flat out malicious. For example, while digging for my sources, the first one to come up for the explanation of the church fire was a short one from Fox News. When I looked for information about the photograph incident however, Fox News, the first title that didn’t make it seem like Trump walked out and personally shot the protesters, didn’t appear until page four. 

That’s the way instant communication helps turn those lies into gospel in the minds of everyone and, depending on how you feel about the topic at hand, no amount of facts are going to be enough to fully dethrone that narrative. 

So what happened? Let’s start on Sunday.

The Fire

Let’s set some terms up. Protests are calm, peaceful demonstrations of upset, hurt, and anger justifiably felt. Protesters are civil, strong, and honorable individuals who are taking part in protests to make themselves heard. Riots are chaotic, though sometimes organized, shows of emotion and brute force without regard to who or what is damaged or destroyed in the process. Rioters are thuggish cowards who carry out riots on the homes, businesses, and landmarks around them far too often from behind the meat and moral shield of protesters. Got it? Good. Let’s start.

Sunday evening [5/31] protesting for changes to law enforcement in the wake of the death of George Floyd turned to riots outside of the White House and St. John’s Episcopal church was caught in the crossfire. Luckily for everyone the fire department was able to plow through to put out the blaze in the newly-renovated nursery of the church’s basement before the whole building was consumed. Rev. Fischer, the rector of the church, expressed both how surreal the news felt and how he separated rioters who carried out the attack from the protesters. (1) 

“And I’m very mindful that those people who did this — it may have been one person, I don’t know who it was — I think it is really important to say that person does not represent the majority of the people that are out there peacefully protesting with an important message.”

Rev. Fischer, Source 1
Thugs come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t protesters.

President Trump has made similar calls during his speeches and tweets. (pic) Too many don’t, as far as I’m concerned. Though I will admit, the longer this week drags the more the line seems to blur as the rioters make their stand earlier in the day. 

There are many questions that spring to mind at this event. The biggest is why here of all places? Truth be told, it’s most likely solely down to location. St. John’s is right across the street from the White House’s front lawn and there were guards standing there, so that wasn’t going to work out too well. But let’s say the responsible rioters, who had an appearance matching long-time left-wing communist anarchy group and terrorist organization Antifa, actually were taking the time to choose their target well. What would the reason be then? (2) 

Built in 1816, St. John’s has been called the church of presidents, with every president in the lineup since James Madison attending at least one service there regardless of denomination. That might make it a particularly appealing target for destruction, even if President Lincoln was one of those who prayed in its 200 year old halls. After all, the Lincoln memorial, built for the unjustly slain president who freed the slaves, didn’t get spared by this group supposedly spurred on by the unjust death of a man of color. Neither did the World War II memorial, also known as the memorial to the first anti-fascists according to people on Twitter defending Antifa from the bane of the President {they are wrong for many reasons but we’ll cover that in a separate article}. They also tore up Lafayette Square outside of the church with graffiti. (2)

As they tainted historical landmarks earned by the blood and paid for by the tax dollars of countless US citizens it was only a matter of time before they clashed with authorities. This led to more than 50 secret service members taking injury before they were able to disperse the crowd and end the violent night. (2) America was reeling. And somehow it could only get worse.

Pics or it Didn’t Happen

You’ve likely heard this side of the story, but I know some haven’t. In keeping with the spirit of getting the whole story and demonstrating the social media effect mentioned above, I’m starting here. 

Monday evening, well after the fires had gone out but less than thirty minutes before the curfew was set to start, Pastor Gerbasi, an Episcopal priest, was working at a relief station outside the boarded up church. She and a group of priests and laypeople had snacks, water, and hand sanitizer to help the protesters through the long late spring day. Then the chaos started. Without warning the mass of protesters moved in a wall of screaming and alarm towards them, bringing the stinging scent of pepper and the explosion of flash grenades which swept her and the others up into the sea of movement away from church steps, leaving the rest of their things behind. (3) 

It’s a terrible scene and I can only imagine the horror and pain they experience while under attack. It was so bad that it wasn’t until she got to her car did Gerbasi take notice of what seemed to be the cause of all this. Trump was now where she had been just before, taking pictures of himself holding the Bible in front of the assaulted landmark. And she was pissed. (3) 

For many, that is where the story ends. Good people packing up from a good day of protesting suddenly rained on by flashes and smoke and capsaicin only for the President to walk out with his agents and up to the building to take vanity shots. (3) I would be pissed too. And so many were, and are, because that’s all the information they have. That’s what’s in the tweets and posts on their dash. It’s what most of the media says, it’s what most of the celebrities are saying. 

There are some exceptions to the rule. The Hill, who interviewed Gerbasi, despite being strongly on her side in her scolding of the president, admitted that Trump aides explained that the decision to expand the perimeter back away from the church had come much earlier Monday and had nothing to do with Trump’s decision to appear there.(3) AG Barr had made the call and had gone out to check on the area to see how it had gone once he learned of the decision. (5) 

We all know it hadn’t been done yet, we wouldn’t be talking about it if it had and whoever dropped the ball on that should be reprimanded by a demotion or something for leading to this situation. And no, I don’t just mean because of the confusion it caused that gave people with half the facts another thing to “muh Drumpf bad” about. No, it’s because the rioting had followed the pattern of starting in the evening as darkness fell so things would have undoubtedly gone better earlier. It would have at least spared Gerbasi and her companions, because we’re not done yet. 

Just past 6:30 pm, around when Barr was arriving on scene, the rioters made their move. From the shield of protesters they began to throw bricks, frozen bottles of water, and caustic liquids at the police. Not just the water from the aid table, not rocks or sticks; ice, bricks, and something in the bleach or acid family. Not exactly your standard fare for a peaceful day of coming together as a community. They had also begun to climb on the husks of destroyed buildings north of Lafayette Park. (5) 

In the wake of arson and 50 injured companions and faced with active assault, there was no other option. There are recorded calls of violence starting against the police, and in the aftermath they found the glass bottles, baseball bats, and metal poles left behind. The rioters hadn’t just come back for round two, they were out for blood. (5) 

So who is to blame for this? Trump who had nothing to do with it? AG Barr for not ensuring his orders had been carried out earlier? Whoever he told to push back the line who didn’t get it done? Or maybe, here’s a thought, while AG Barr and his team could have made the event happen away from the church and possibly after the lawful crowd had gone home, the people to blame are the rioters! You know, the bastards that think they can solve their problems through violence and destruction but only once they have a nice meat and sympathy shield held up over them. 

I’m going to give another, more controversial take too. But first: semantics. Many news articles, including the one by The Hill, stated that tear gas was released on the crowd.(3) Even some who know the protests grew violent think something like that is excessive and have complained so the US Park Police released a statement. They did not use tear gas. What they did use was a combination of smoke canisters and pepper balls. (5) Together they wound up giving the impression that tear gas was used. 

What’s the difference? Tear gas is a powder mix of chemicals launched from canisters or grenades that irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory system. (6) Pepper balls, on the other hand, are paintball-like rounds that burst out capsaicin on contact. (7) While it seems to be a minimal difference, I’d say in my unprofessional opinion, that the balls sound more direct and less likely to cause the deep and lasting effects than a cloud of chemicals would. 

Now for my controversial take before I give a brief overview of the technically coincidental photo shoot. There is only one person who put the protesters in harm’s way that day. And it was the protesters. 

That may sound like victim blaming, and in every other situation I’d say you were right. But on that day, though the rioters are to blame for their own actions of starting a brawl with the police, the only ones who can be blamed for the protesters being swept up into the aftermath is themselves. Why? Personal responsibility. 

Roughly 24 hours before, in that same spot, a lawless anarchist group of rioters had turned the ground they stood on into a flaming, destructive, chaotic scene. (2) Worse, they did it while pretending to promote the same cause as the protesters, decorating themselves in the trappings of comradery and righteousness. And the protesters came back the next day. 

Protests are a valid way to have your voice heard, they are a Constitutional right. If they are peaceful. But what are the odds that the day after the riots ended, the ones who are so misguided that they think they’re on your side, so they can use your public sympathy to buy them time, are not going to return to finish what they started? Sunday wasn’t even the first night of riots. At what point does it go from a tragic surprise to expected? At what point do you say I’m mad about this, and I will fight for change, but until the rioters have been brought under control I’m going to stay home, protect myself and my loved ones, and give the police and soldiers space to do their job? 

Speaking of: Why is everyone so angry at Trump for saying he’ll stop the riots? In what world are riots and destruction the same as a protest? Yet Trump’s calls for law and order, telling mayors and governors to stop the burning in their streets before he does, and everyone screams like he’s telling the Navy Seals to reenact the slaughter of innocents that both Moses and Jesus narrowly escaped. And I don’t get why. (4)

I’m going to link a Chicago Tribune article that lists twelve times in the past where the National Guard was called in by the president. Several times it was to prevent governors from using the guard to prevent integration in schools. Most of the time it was used for what it would be used for today which is to stop a riot caused by the reaction of the public to a tragic death. So Trump’s use would not only be not a crime or a prevention of human rights but also widely precedented. (8)

The Aftermath

Upsettingly, due to partisan politics and the speed of the internet, the real story will never be accepted by some. No even time travel or pictures of the scene will be enough to convince them. And it’s sad and terrifying. To think that there are people in America who are so wrapped up in their ideals that they have no room left to even listen to an argument that might make them second guess their decision is something that I’ve been struggling with since I left for college the first time and it only seems to get worse as time goes on. 

As for the dreaded photos, I personally think Trump sucks at taking stills. He doesn’t know how to stand. The only good pictures are the ones where he’s walking. They need to get a more invested photographer who can set up scenes that look like stills but have him moving so he looks more natural. But I get the reason behind them. 

This was the President’s 204-year-old church. This was an attack on our capital, on our heritage, on our safety and freedoms. For many, it was just one more sign that forces are at work to rob us of our religious liberties. Plus the hashtag Bunker Baby was spreading on Twitter. For many of his opponents, nothing he’ll do will ever be right. But for those who are on the fence, those who support him, seeing those pictures was seeing an emblem of America. Not because of Trump but because of the office of the President, standing amid damages, unafraid with God at his side. (4) 

Unless you’re one of those weird fanboys comparing it to 9/11 or WWII. Y’all need to calm your jets we ain’t there yet. Same goes for the people whining about how pointless it is. The protester thing was separate and guess what most people are still theists in this country whether you like it or not. (4) 

And for those of you who want to know what he’s doing for real, what his feelings are about the police situation, he’s working on it. I’ve said it before, but for a bunch of screamers complaining he’s trying to be Hitler 2 the god-emperor of hatred and evil and bad you sure as hell get mad when he doesn’t do dictator things like make sweeping reforms to the justice system without congress or the state or backs off of using the Insurrection Act to stop the riots. You can’t have it both ways. He can’t be the fascist military king and a useless layabout. You think you can but that’s why the rest of us on his side or in the middle think you’re bonkers. 

Specifically, after the dust settles–since he’s putting the safety of the people from arson, looting, and murder first–he has his eyes on brainstorming ways to get improvements in the police departments. Though it should start at the state level. His aide also stated the White House is building out their funding programs for black colleges, school vouchers, and lowering prison sentences while looking into tools to ensure law enforcement doesn’t use excessive force. (4) You know real solutions other than police bad and should die.

Yes, there are problems. Emerging amid the crying victims are images of police in riot gear being a bit too happy to plow into someone. Even if they were not complying, and even if the ambulance was called, there isn’t a need to bowl over single men or casually mace someone who hasn’t actually moved to hurt you. Most of it’s camera shots and half-videos but some of it needs to stop. I understand the frustration, being low on sleep and having stand down orders while literally everyone is yelling at you and burning down your city for a crime where all four perpetrators have been arrested and charged and you had nothing to do with it but they still literally are screaming you need to die to your face and… you know what? I’m going to leave it here for you to decide if they should get any sympathy for losing their tempers. 

That’s all for this one. If nothing else, I hope you have the facts now. Maybe a new perspective. Until next time, work to be healthy, be happy with the rest, and stay safe.

Sources

  1. https://www.foxnews.com/media/st-johns-rector-fire-impromptu-trump-visit
  2. https://pjmedia.com/news-and-politics/paula-bolyard/2020/06/01/breaking-rioters-burn-historic-st-johns-church-in-d-c-deface-monuments-across-the-city-n474820
  3. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/500628-priest-among-those-police-cleared-from-st-johns-patio-for-trump-visit
  4. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/03/868779265/trump-defends-symbolism-of-photo-op-at-st-johns-church
  5. https://www.foxnews.com/politics/park-police-defends-actions-clearing-protesters-near-white-house-says-no-tear-gas-was-used
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/tear-gas-effects
  7. https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-pepper-balls.htm
  8. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-national-guard-deployments-timeline-htmlstory.html

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