The fire that rioters set at St. John’s Church Sunday night is out and the damage could have been “a lot worse,” according to an email sent by Rev. Rob Fisher, rector of St. John’s, early Monday morning.
The nursery of the house of worship in Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, D.C., was on fire Sunday night, as were several other buildings near the White House as rioters clashed with Secret Service agents, police and members of other federal law enforcement agencies who were sent in to bolster security around the White House.
“I am happy to share with you that I could see no other real damage besides that one room, and quite a bit of graffiti and debris around the exterior of the church,” Fisher said.
He added: “Protestors easily could have done a lot worse to our buildings, but they chose not to do that. (The damage I saw to other nearby buildings illustrated this point.)”
Sunday night’s riots followed the death last week of George Floyd, who is black, while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department. Floyd was handcuffed and not apparently resisting arrest when, officials say, an officer used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground by his neck for several minutes while Floyd begged for air. The officer who pinned Floyd down, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter, and has been transported to a maximum-security prison.
Floyd’s death, along with other deaths of black people in racially charged interactions with police and white people in recent months, set off a string of protests against police brutality and racial inequality. But many of those protests quickly turned violent, causing the National Guard to be activated in more than half of the states as officials blamed interlopers for hijacking initially peaceful demonstrations.
The church says every president beginning with James Madison, “until the present,” has attended a service at the church, giving it the nickname, “the church of presidents.” The first services at the church were held in 1816, according to its website.
Fox News contributor and former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino lamented the damage to the church in an appearance on “Fox & Friends” Monday morning.
“Do you know how many times I stood post in that majestic church across the street from the White House, as an agent, when President Obama, President Bush went over there?” he said. “It was the Sunday morning ritual for many years. The beautiful church. You’re burning the church? I woke up this morning I feel like this is a bad movie, like a nightmare none of us can wake up from.”
Fisher also expressed his dismay after seeing his church burning Sunday night.
“Like many of you perhaps, I had little access to information about how bad the fire was while it was happening,” he said in a note to parishioners. “It felt horrible to see glimpses of smoke rising by the stairs to our entrance on national TV, and then to have it confirmed with an up-close video showing the flames in the basement.”
Fisher said that “[n]one of this changes our purpose to be an instrument for God’s work through all of this,” and said that he is praying “for our collective wisdom, grace, courage and compassion as we move forward into what God is calling us to do and be next.”
Fox News’ Alex Pappas and Gregg Re contributed to this report.