President Trump's Monday night photo op in front of a Washington, DC, church has proved controversial, but according to the White House press secretary, it should be viewed alongside some of the most iconic images in history, including one of Winston Churchill during World War II:
- "Through all of time, we have seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination," Kayleigh McEnany said at the White House Wednesday, looking at notes on the podium as she did so, per the Hill and the BBC. "Like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage. It sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people. And George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonial first pitch after 9/11 and Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings and George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act flanked by two disabled Americans. For this president, it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters the anarchists, they will not prevail, that burning churches are not what America is about. And that moment, holding the Bible up, is something that has been widely hailed, by Franklin Graham and others, and it was a very important symbol for the American people to see, that we will get through this, through unity and through faith."
St. John’s Episcopal Church had been damaged by fire the night before Trump's visit, as unrest gripped the city over the deaths of black people at the hands of police, and protesters were cleared from Lafayette Square just before Trump left the White House to walk to the church. Law enforcement officers used chemical agents, and McEnany on Wednesday said their tactics were appropriate. "I think US Park [Police], when having bricks thrown at them and frozen water bottles, had the right to act," she said. "They acted with the appropriate level of force to protect themselves, to protect the average citizenry and to protect the peaceful protesters who were among them as well." USA Today and the Washington Post report that Trump's camp is claiming tear gas was not used, but rather "pepper balls" and "smoke canisters"—which, per both outlets, would have essentially the same effect as actual tear gas. (Read more President Trump stories.)