“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” U.S. President Donald Trump once said, while talking about unflattering coverage in the media.
Some people on Tuesday said those words could easily apply to the White House Twitter account, after it shared a video of the POTUS walking to a church to hold a Bible, without showing the peaceful protesters that he had tear-gassed to clear the way.
The video also failed to show the area around the White House, which has been scrawled with graffiti messages such as “Black Lives Matter” and “F— Trump” over several days of protests.
“This certainly appears to be propaganda,” Citizens for Ethics in Washington, a left-of-centre advocacy group, tweeted about the video. News commentator Philip DeFranco also described the video as “propaganda,” in a tweet that was liked by more than 22,000 people.
The 29-second clip was recorded on Monday night after Trump vowed to use the military against those protesting the death of George Floyd, the latest Black American citizen who died in an encounter with police. Trump described the protests as “acts of domestic terror” and declared himself a “president of law and order” in a televised statement from the Rose Garden, just before his photo op. He also claimed he was an “ally of peaceful protesters,” moments after police launched tear gas, flash-bang grenades and rubber bullets into a crowd of peaceful protesters on the president’s doorstep in Lafayette Park.
Those scenes did not appear in the White House video, which shows Trump surrounded by friendly Republicans and defended by a long line of National Guard as he walks across the street to hold a book. The photo op reportedly happened right after he made his statement.
The video shows Trump striding confidently out from the White House where, just a few days earlier, he’d taken refuge in a bunker against protesters outside the gates. Trump reportedly arranged the photo op as a gesture of strength after he was mocked as a “bunker boy” for the earlier incident, two sources told the Washington Post. He later retweeted someone who described his photo op as a “show of STRENGTH.”
Trump is shown walking at the head of dozens of cabinet members and Republican members of Congress while swelling, triumphant music plays in the clip. He then poses outside a church damaged by the protests while holding a Bible, which he hefts and waves around for various shots.
The president did not appear to pray during his visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church, nor did he say anything about George Floyd or the protests. However, he did tell gathered reporters that the U.S. is the “greatest country in the world.” He also posed in front of the church with various members of his cabinet, although those moments did not appear in the video.
The video ends with Trump and his allies marching back to the White House. Trump is shown stopping along the way to give a fist-pump in front of a long line of National Guard.
Critics immediately skewered the video on Twitter, calling it “propaganda” and an “un-American stunt” that puts the U.S. “on the level of China and North Korea.”
Several people attempted to “fix” the video by replacing the music with sounds from the protest or cutting in scenes from the police crackdown.
Religious leaders also condemned the incident, with the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, bishop for St. John’s and other Episcopal churches in Washington, saying that she was “outraged.”
“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,” Budde told The Associated Press. “There was nothing I could do but speak out against that.”
Many Trump allies, including his son Donald Jr., applauded the photo op as a display of strength and a response to the “bunker boy” criticism.
“This is the guy that the media and left just spent days telling us was a coward hiding in his basement,” Don Jr. said of his dad. “This is what leadership looks like!”
Protests continued to unfold in D.C. despite the curfew on Monday night. Military helicopters were deployed to help with the police response, and video shows one of them hovering just above a crowd in an effort to disperse it.
Trump claimed in a tweet on Tuesday morning that D.C. “had no problems last night.” He also applauded the use of “overwhelming force” and “domination” to put down the protests, before thanking himself.
He did not mention that new measures had been put in place to protect the White House from protesters. Streets around the building were sealed off overnight, and new fencing was put up around the sprawling grounds of Trump’s residence.
Trump spent much of Tuesday morning retweeting favourable news coverage and touting various Republican candidates running for Congress. He also tried to rally his followers ahead of the upcoming presidential election on Nov. 3 amid struggling poll results, a coronavirus death toll over 100,000, the worst economic numbers since the Great Depression and sweeping protests against racial injustice across the country.
“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump tweeted.
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Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the presidential election, responded to Trump’s photo op by citing the Bible in a tweet on Tuesday.
“The president held up a Bible at St. John’s church yesterday,” Biden tweeted. “If he opened it instead of brandishing it, he could have learned something: That we are called to love one another as we love ourselves.”