WASHINGTON - Midnight violence erupted within two blocks of the White House Saturday night while U.S. Park Police, the Secret Service and the National Guard defended a perimeter around nearby Lafayette Square.
As pepper spray pushed back hundreds of protesters, vandals smashed windows of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in the 1400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, two banks and numerous other businesses within blocks of the White House.
Small fires were set inside two restaurants by looters across the street from the White House Historical Association, off Lafayette Square, and multistory scaffolding was also set on fire in a portion of the nearby U.S. Chamber of Commerce building under construction.
Several vehicles parked on streets in the neighborhood were also vandalized and set alight.
The Washington fire department responded to the larger fires, but witnesses said local police were conspicuously absent as the vandalism occurred, some of it playing out on live local and national television.
VOA's Turkish service shot this video of protesters near the White House:
The scene in downtown Washington on Saturday night and into Sunday morning mirrored events in dozens of other American cities.
The unrest followed what had been generally peaceful protests across the country in the days after the death in Minneapolis of 46-year-old George Floyd, an African American man who was pinned to the ground for more than eight minutes by a white police officer who knelt on his neck.
Curfews have been imposed in at least 25 cities in 16 U.S. states.
In Washington late Friday and early Saturday, protesters between Lafayette Square and the White House threw bricks and rocks at uniformed Secret Service officers while demonstrators repeatedly knocked over security barriers on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Numerous officers and agents were injured, according to the Secret Service.
“No individual crossed the White House Fence and no Secret Service protectees were ever in danger,” according to a Secret Service statement.
The protective perimeter around the White House was enlarged on Saturday to a roughly six-block area.
President Donald Trump, who was in the White House both Friday and Saturday night, praised the initial Secret Service response and tweeted that if demonstrators had come any closer on Friday night the authorities would have responded with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons.”
Trump said Secret Service agents told him they were clamoring for engagement with the demonstrators.
“We put the young ones on the front line, sir, they love it, and good practice,” he quoted them as saying.
Trump appeared to invite his supporters to amass on Saturday to counter the protesters.
“Tonight, I understand, is MAGA NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE???” he tweeted, using the acronym for his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
No such crowd of the president’s supporters appeared.
“I call upon on our city and our nation to exercise great restraint even while the president tries to divide us,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser said Saturday.
Trump, on Saturday, blamed the mayor for withholding Washington police assistance in Lafayette Park. The Secret Service, however, said the local police had been on the scene.
“The memory of George Floyd is being dishonored by rioters, looters, and anarchists,” said Trump in a speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday. “The violence and vandalism is being led by Antifa and other radical left-wing groups who are terrorizing the innocent, destroying jobs, hurting businesses, and burning down buildings.”
The president, who went to Florida to witnesses the first launch into space of NASA astronauts aboard a commercial craft, said the government will not “give into anarchy, abandon police precincts, or allow communities to be burned to the ground. It won't happen.”