United States President Donald Trump has visited a historic church that was partially burned down in violent protests in Washington, DC over the custodial killing of African-American George Floyd, a day after he was forced to take shelter in a White House bunker.
St John's church was set ablaze on Sunday night as protesters demanded justice for the killing of Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was pinned to the ground in Minneapolis last week by a white police officer who kneeled on his neck as he gasped for breath.
His death triggered violent protests across the US. After the protests escalated on Sunday, the Secret Service rushed the president to an underground bunker previously used during terrorist attacks.
On Monday, Trump stood in front of the boarded-up St John's church with a Bible in his hand.
"Greatest country in the world. And we're going to keep it safe," said the US president who was accompanied by US Attorney General William Barr, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
Trump announced his decision to walk down to the historic park during his address to the nation from the Rose Garden of the White House.
"And now I'm going to pay my respects a very, very special place," he said.
Minutes later, he was seen walking out of the main entrance of the White House with secret service lined up on both sides.
Known as "the Church of the Presidents", St. John's Episcopal Church held its first service on October 27, 1816, and the church was consecrated on December 27, 1816.
The church is at a walking distance across the White House through the Lafayette Park, which has been a hub of violent protest in Washington DC for the past few days.
Beginning with James Madison, until the present, every person who has held the office of president of the United States has attended a service at St John's, according to the information available on its website.
"The protests that began peacefully grew to something more, and eventually a fire was lit in the nursery, in the basement of Ashburton House," Reverend Rob Fisher, church rector, wrote in a blog post.
Some reports said that small groups of people began setting fires and smashing windows once darkness fell. According to local police, a small fire was deliberately set in the basement.
"It's heart-rending. This is a very historic building. A person sprayed graffiti at the church: 'The Devil is across (the) street'," Fisher said.
Earlier, the entire Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. The protesters were forcefully removed from the park with police using tear gas.
Since Sunday, Trump's opponents and a section of the media have been slamming him for not being seen in the public.
However, Trump's family members, close aides and supporters hailed him for leading the country from the front.
"This is the guy that the media and left just spent days telling us was a coward hiding in his basement," said his son Donald J Trump Jr as he re-tweeted a video of his father walking down the Lafayette Park from the White House to the church.
The president went to the church after an address to the nation from Rose Garden of the White House.
"I will fight to protect you. I am your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters," Trump said, as he spelled out concrete steps to restore normalcy in the country which for the past seven days has experiences a spate of violent protests over the custodial killing of African-American George Floyd.
"Powerful remarks by President", said Kimberly Guilfoyle, advisor to Donald J Trump for President, Inc and National Chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committees.
"He truly is the President and leader for all Americans and he will stand up to defend both the peaceful protests, as well as the safety and security of our communities!" she said.
Describing Trump as "the law and order president", Al Mason, co-chair of the Trump Victory Indian American Finance Committee, said in a statement that Trump supports the rights of peaceful protesters, but anarchy, rioting and looting needs to end.
"He has correctly called Antifa -- a domestic terrorist entity. He is right in mobilising US military to end riots and lawlessness," Mason said.
Responding to questions, during her news conference, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said burning of the church was hurtful.
"It's hurtful, honestly. I think it's hurtful on a number of levels," she said. "That doesn't honour the legacy of George Floyd. It doesn't. And certainly not the burning of St John's Church," she added.
Considered to be the worst ever civil unrest in the US in decades, the violent protests have engulfed at least 140 cities across America in the days following the death of Floyd.
Over 4,000 people have been arrested and curfews imposed in at least 40 cities.