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Tear gas used to clear out peaceful protesters before Trump surprise church visit

The surprise visit to St. John’s Church near the White House came minutes after Trump threatened to send U.S. troops to cities to quell riots.

WASHINGTON — It began with Attorney General Bill Barr standing with his hands casually in his pockets, not wearing a tie, surveying the scene at Lafayette Park across from the White House, where several thousand protesters had gathered for more demonstrations after the police killing of George Floyd.

President Donald Trump had announced he would soon be addressing the nation from the White House Rose Garden, as a 7 p.m. curfew in the city loomed and a mass of law enforcement, including U.S. Secret Service agents, Park Police and National Guardsmen, stood sentry, many dressed in riot gear.

Moments before 6:30 p.m., just when Trump said he would begin his address, the officers suddenly marched forward, directly confronting the protesters as many held up their hands, saying, “Don’t shoot."

Soon, law enforcement officers were aggressively forcing the protesters back, firing tear gas and deploying flash bangs into the crowd to disperse them from the park for seemingly no reason. It was a jarring scene as police in the nation's capital forcefully cleared young men and women gathered legally in a public park on a sunny evening, all of it on live television.

With smoke still wafting and isolated tussles continuing in the crowd, Trump emerged in the Rose Garden for a dramatic split-screen of his own creation.

“I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters," he declared, before demanding that governors across the nation deploy the National Guard "in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets." And he warned that, if they refused, he would deploy the United States military “and quickly solve the problem for them.”

RELATED: Trump threatens to deploy US military unless states halt violent protests

RELATED: Crews put out fire at DC's historic St. John's Church

As an additional show of force, Trump announced he was deploying even more of the military to Washington, D.C., giving it the feel of an armed, locked-down city after days of violent clashes, arson and looting.

“As we speak I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers," he said, as explosions rang out in the background. “We are putting everybody on warning.”

Then, before departing, Trump announced he wasn't done for the evening, and would be "going to pay my respects to a very very special place.”

Moments later, the White House press pool was quickly summoned for a surprise movement. And soon after, Trump strolled out of the White House gates — something he had never done before — and walked across the park that had just been cleared to accommodate his movements.

After his address, Trump and aides walked out of the front of the White House, through Lafayette Square to the church. The president posed for photographers, holding a Bible as he stood in front of the church.