Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign for the United States presidency sent emails to news organisations, including Al Jazeera, demanding corrections to articles describing security forces’ use of tear gas on protesters to make room for the president so he could pose for photographs.
Police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators on Monday using gas and rubber-coated bullets in Lafayette Park, outside the White House, so Trump could walk to a nearby church and take pictures with a Bible.
As video and photos of the scene circulated on social media and caused outrage, the US Park Police sent a statement defending the action, saying officers used “smoke canisters” and “pepper balls” after “protesters became more combative”.
It also said no tear gas was used in the incident.
“We now know through the US Park Police that neither they, nor any of their law enforcement partners, used tear gas to quell rising violence,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump 2020 campaign’s communications director, said in a statement on Tuesday night.
“Every news organisation which reported the tear gas lie should immediately correct or retract its erroneous reporting.”
Despite the claim that no tear gas was fired, photographs taken by news organisations show clouds surrounding demonstrators.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, riot control agents often referred to as tear gas are “chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin”.
Compounds from smoke canisters and pepper spray fall under this definition and have similar effects as tear gas, according to the CDC.
The most common symptoms of exposure to these chemical agents are burning eyes, blurred vision, a running nose, burning and irritation in the mouth, and chest tightness.
Protesters throughout the US are demanding all four police officers be charged in the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died last week in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Those protesting police brutality have at times been met with excessive force by authorities. Journalists have also been targeted by police, while officers have been injured in the demonstrations.
So far, only one policeman – white officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe” – has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Medical examiners have ruled Floyd’s death a homicide.