| Washington Examiner
WASHINGTON — Protesters behind the White House on Monday night claimed the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church as the “Black House Autonomous Zone,” vandalizing four of the church’s columns with the acronym BHAZ.
BHAZ, a nod to Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, came into being after protesters earlier that evening failed to pull down a 168-year-old bronze statue of President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Park. The incident sparked a confrontation between protesters and police. Throughout the rest of the night, the two groups faced off nearby the church, with the protesters shouting at the line of officers blocking access to the Jackson statue.
John Cheeks, a former independent candidate for D.C.’s nonvoting at-large congressional seat, stood outside St. John’s, bellowing into a megaphone about the historical evils of the Episcopal Church, which, he said, as an institution was one of the four largest slaveholders in American history.
“The other three were the Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians,” he added, before demanding that all white Christians pay cash to black people for the sins of these churches. “Pay!” he shouted. “Pay, pay, pay!”
Behind Cheeks, another man echoed his sentiment. He also told anyone who would listen about how white Christians would rape black men on plantations as a form of “racial dominance.” He reserved particular criticism for the Catholic Church, whose issues with sexual abuse are a well-documented phenomenon.
Those horrors, along with other racial crimes, will not go unpunished, Cheeks said. As he pointed his megaphone at St. John’s, he outlined a plan to turn BHAZ into a haven for black people trampled by centuries of religious racism.
“We’re going to take this building and turn it into our headquarters, where all we’re going to do is write policy and process claims for the injury of slavery in this country,” he said.
Directly outside the church, protesters set up tents and spray-painted messages about racial justice on the building itself. And, as police held off attempts to take down Jackson, various people would retreat from the crowd to relax under the church’s awning, smoke cigarettes, and relieve themselves.
The St. John’s outdoor sign, which up until recently advertised when services were held, was also claimed, with an upside-down printout of the phrase #BLM taped over the church’s name. The moveable vinyl lettering has been reordered to spell out various crude messages, the most coherent being: “TRUMP MUNCHES ON PUTIN SCHLONG.”
Since protests began after the death of George Floyd over Memorial Day weekend, St. John’s has repeatedly become a point of contention for protesters in Washington, D.C. The church, which nearly every president has attended, was burned and vandalized in early June.
After that incident, President Trump posed in front of St. John’s while holding an unopened Bible in the air. Security cleared protesters with pepper spray and tear gas to reach the church from the White House, a decision which drew widespread condemnation, considering the religious nature of the gesture.
The implications of St. John’s new role in BHAZ remains to be seen. Not everyone at the protest Monday night is optimistic about its prospects.
“Our next step is war,” said a protester who declined to be named. “This peaceful demonstration is cute and all — but that’s the next step.” READ MORE