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Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit

At least one priest was among the people whom police cleared from the patio of St. John’s Episcopal Church ahead of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE’s visit Monday evening.

The Rev. Gini Gerbasi said in a Facebook post that she, along with the church's seminarian, were forcibly removed from the patio less than an hour before Trump arrived to take pictures in front of St. John's while holding a Bible. The patio clearing coincided with the use of tear gas to empty Lafayette Square outside of the White House to allow the president to travel on foot to the church. 

“We were literally DRIVEN OFF of the St. John's, Lafayette Square patio with tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear,” Gerbasi said. “We were pushed back 20 feet, and then eventually - with SO MANY concussion grenades - back to K street.”

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Gerbasi said that she was informed after returning to her car that Trump was standing outside St. John’s. 

I am shaken, not so much by the taste of tear gas and the bit of a cough I still have, but by the fact that that show of force was for a PHOTO OPPORTUNITY,” she said. 

“The patio of St. John's, Lafayette square had been HOLY GROUND today,” she added. “A place of respite and laughter and water and granola bars and fruit snacks. But that man turned it into a BATTLE GROUND first, and a cheap political stunt second.”

Gerbasi reported in her post that she was “ok,” adding: “But I am now a force to be reckoned with.”

The Religious News Service first reported Gerbasi’s removal from the patio on Monday night. 

Gerbasi told the news outlet that at least 20 other priests and a group of laypeople were at the church to serve as a “peaceful presence in support of protestors.” They handed out water, snacks and hand sanitizer before law enforcement arrived and forced them to leave their emergency medical supplies behind, she added. 

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The dispersal at St. John’s and in Lafayette Square occurred before a 7 p.m. curfew for the city took effect. 

A small fire had been set in the basement of the church, nicknamed the “Church of the Presidents,” during Sunday’s demonstrations. 

Trump aides reportedly told a Bloomberg News reporter that officials were planning to expand the perimeter around the White House Monday, unrelated to the president’s walk to St. John’s. But the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, an Episcopal bishop, told The Washington Post Monday that she was “outraged” to learn the president was speaking in front of the church without being notified ahead of time. 

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment. The White House did post a video on Monday night of Trump walking to the church and holding up a Bible with dramatic music in the background.

Several governors, mayors and lawmakers condemned the removal of protesters from Lafayette Square, with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) calling the incident “shameful.”