Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge: It was 'offensive' to clear out peaceful protesters for Trump 'photo op'

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Thursday that it was offensive for police to disperse protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square so President Trump could have a "photo op" on Monday.

Ridge told “America’s Newsroom” on Thursday that he disagrees “with the notion that you would try to part peaceful protesters in front of the White House to go in front of the historic church in Washington, D.C., for a political photo op.”

“I found that personally offensive, but so be it, that’s just my opinion,” he continued.

Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton, presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seized on reports that Park Police used tear gas against protesters in D.C.’s Lafayette Square before President Trump walked through the area to visit St. John's Church, but officials said neither the police nor any other law enforcement agency used the chemical.

Park Police did acknowledge using smoke canisters and pepper balls on the protesters, which are sometimes more broadly defined as tear gas.

During the brief visit at the boarded-up church, the president stood in front and posed for photographers while holding up a Bible. He was accompanied by a variety of aides and officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

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Ridge noted that he thinks only a “small group” of the protesters demonstrating against the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody are “violent.”

“There’s a small group that have basically stolen the focus from the mass of individuals who are protesting peacefully,” Ridge said.

“We need to remind ourselves that they’ve kind of hijacked these peaceful protests and I would dare say that I would believe that most of my friends in law enforcement would take a look at George Floyd’s death and find it as horrific and reprehensible as every other American, whether they were in a blue uniform or not.”

The removal of the protesters came as Trump gave a statement in the Rose Garden that he is taking "immediate action” to mobilize “all available federal resources” to stop riots and looting across the country. He also threatened to deploy the military if states don’t send in the National Guard to the protests.

On Thursday, Ridge said he agreed with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and others who declared that they are not in favor of the president invoking the Insurrection Act in order to send the U.S. military to quell violent protests.

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Ridge, a former governor of Pennsylvania and the nation's first DHS secretary, had this message for President Trump on Thursday: “I, also as a former governor, say to the president, ‘In a federal system, Mr. President, your 50 governors are empowered to use the National Guard, if they feel the disruption and the violence has reached a point where they need to engage their own National Guard and in this instance, I would say Mr. President, listen to your governors and if they don’t call for your action, you need not to respond voluntarily or unilaterally.’”

 Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer and David Aaro contributed to this report.

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