Opinion: Turkish government goons beat peaceful protesters on American soil. And not a word from the White House

Police secure the street outside the Turkish Embassy in Washington during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His security detail clashed with protesters.
(AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a mark of these tumultuous political times that an act of outrageous viciousness this week by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards on peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C., has barely caused a public ripple.

The State Department communicated “our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms” and summoned the ambassador for a discussion, some members of Congress expressed outrage, but the White House has remained silent and three days later news coverage has faded.

It shouldn’t. Turkey needs to be pressed on this egregious behavior, in which Erdogan seems to be exporting the kind of ruthlessness he pursues at home.


The videos of the attack are disgusting. Two black-suited security men, one after the other, kick the face of a protester holding a bullhorn as he lay defenseless on the ground. They punch other protesters indiscriminately, chasing some around the park as police try vainly to separate them. Two women huddle on the ground, an overturned baby stroller nearby.

In all, 11 people were injured, including a police officer and two Secret Service agents, as police monitoring the protest were overwhelmed by the speed, ferociousness and scope of the attack.

Turkey needs to be pressed on this egregious behavior.

Washington police said they arrested two people who live in the D.C. area — presumably protesters or pro-Erdogan demonstrators — but Erdogan’s traveling security team enjoys diplomatic immunity, which means none will be held accountable for clearly criminal acts.

The Turkish news agency acknowledged that Erdogan’s security detail was involved, and the Turkish embassy blamed the protesters for “provoking” pro-Erdogan demonstrators. But the videos show an unprovoked attack led by what appears to be Erdogan’s security team and supported by the pro-Erdogan demonstrators.

The attack occurred outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence a little more than a mile from the White House, where Erdogan had hours before met with President Trump. The protesters were standing in Sheridan Circle Park across the street from the driveway to the residence when Erdogan’s motorcade pulled in.

In one of the most damning videos (see below), a man bends into the open back door of Erdogan’s car parked in the driveway outside the residence. Then the man stands and seems to say something to another man who nods then jogs off as others begin moving across the street and the attacks begin. After a few minutes, the black-suited security detail can be seen returning to the car, where Erdogan emerges and then enters the residence.

It’s hard not to conclude that Erdogan personally gave the order for his men to attack the protesters. In a public park in Washington. Hours after meeting with President Trump.

This isn’t the first time Erdogan’s thugs have roughed up people during a visit to the U.S. In April 2016, a talk by Erdogan at the Brookings Institution in Washington was marked by clashes between protesters and with Erdogan’s bodyguards, who also roughed up reporters and tried to evict some from the event until Brookings threatened to cancel the talk.

So here’s an idea for the Trump administration. Deny Erdogan permission to enter the country again until it can exact an explicit promise that the Turkish thugs in black suits will do nothing more than protect their president. And that they will leave alone those who choose to exercise on American soil their 1st Amendment rights to speech and free assembly in telling Erdogan exactly what they think of him, and his increasingly dangerous and authoritarian regime.

But given how quick Trump was to congratulate Erdogan on his consolidation of power during a recent referendum, such a move is unlikely.

In fact, given Trump’s exhortations last year to campaign supporters to rough up protesters, and Trump’s urging then-FBI Director James B. Comey to jail journalists who publish leaked classified information, Trump probably viewed the goonish actions with a bit of jealousy.

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