President Donald Trump tweeted out a letter Thursday that referred to a group of protesters as “terrorists,” following their violent ouster from a park near the White House earlier this week.
The letter is signed by Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd and addressed to “Jim” in a probable reference to former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It lambasted the former Pentagon chief after he called out Trump on Wednesday for threatening a military response to protests that have engulfed cities across the country. In his letter, Dowd referred to a group of protesters who were violently forced out of Washington’s Lafayette Square on Monday as “terrorists using idle hate … to burn and destroy.”
“They were abusing and disrespecting the police when the police were preparing the area for the 1900 curfew,” the letter said.
The White House did not immediately respond when asked whether Trump views the protesters as “terrorists.”
Protesters had gathered in the park to express their outrage at the death of a black Minnesota man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer, with video showing a largely peaceful — if tense — demonstration. Police charged into the protesters about 30 minutes before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew, throwing chemical irritants and hitting protesters and journalists with shields and rubber bullets.
Trump later walked out of the White House through the cleared area for a photo-op in front of St. John’s Epsicopal Church across from the square.
Mattis joined a symphony of condemnations, which came from both parties, characterizing the episode as a grotesque abuse of power.
“Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath [to defend the Constitution] would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander in chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” Mattis wrote in a statement to journalists on Wednesday.
On Thursday, several protesters and the Washington chapter of Black Lives Matter filed a lawsuit against Trump, along with other law enforcement leadership they identified as leading the Monday clash, accusing them of violating the protesters’ rights to free assembly and freedom from unreasonable seizure.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is among the organizations representing the plaintiffs, decried Dowd’s letter as “abhorrent and a completely false characterization of the peacefully assembled demonstrators who were dispersed through state-sanctioned violence at the hands of government officials.”
“It is remarkable,” Clarke said in a statement to POLITICO on Thursday night, “that President Trump objects so vehemently to those speaking out against racial and police violence while embracing gun-toting activists who take siege of government buildings and violent white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville.”