President Donald Trump is facing criticism after he was photographed holding a Bible during a photo op in Washington, D.C., on Monday — just after police cleared his route from protesters using tear gas and flash grenades.
In video footage obtained by The New York Times on Monday before Trump headed to the church, protesters can be seen fleeing as flash grenades ignite and tear gas fills the street — despite the fact that the demonstration had been peaceful.
At one point in the video, a demonstrator helps up another protester who had been pushed down by a police officer with his shield.
After arriving at the church, Trump, 73, was photographed holding a Bible up with his right hand at St. John's Episcopal Church — where he last attended service on St. Patrick's Day 2019.
Many were quick to point out on Twitter that the Bible was seemingly held upside down in the photos.
"Trump holding up a Bible like a man who has never seen one before," tweeted MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a longtime Trump critic whom the president has repeatedly, baselessly accused of murder.
"what the f--- is donald doing has he ever held a bible," comedian Patton Oswalt added on the social media site.
Trump — who was joined by Ivanka Trump, her husband, Jared Kushner, Hope Hicks, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Attorney General Bill Barr and Robert O'Brien — did not enter the church or say a prayer. During the photo shoot, Trump told reporters that the U.S. was the "greatest country in the world" and "we're going to keep it that way."
Rev. Robert Fisher, St. John's rector, said on CNN later Monday that it was "a surreal day for me and for my parishioners."
"We have a long history and I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this," Fisher said. "When we opened up more than 200 years ago, we have been a place of civility and most importantly, prayer. And to be seen just as a backdrop really caught me be surprise."
"It was just kind of shocking," Fisher continued, explaining that church leaders had "no warning" of Trump's arrival.
"It troubles me deeply that people were removed from a peaceful protest right on our square by tear gas," he added, referencing the crowds in Washington, D.C., that have been protesting racial inequality and police brutality.
"I was with the older clergy of St John’s and other clergy from our diocese with the protestors and it was beautiful and it was actually a spiritual time," he said, adding that presidents using a place of worship as a political tool is "just not what we’re about."
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images Donald Trump
During an address from the White House Rose Garden earlier on Monday, Trump called himself the "president of law and order," and threatened to mobilize the U.S. military in response to ongoing protests across the nation over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man who was pinned to the ground by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25 even as he pleaded for air.