Reversing its previous position, the White House ordered flags lowered to half mast Tuesday morning to honor the victims of a shooting at The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland that left five people dead.
The White House denied a previous request to lower flags that Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley made through the state’s congressional delegation, Buckley said Monday.
“It’s a horrible situation, but I think it’s the least respect we could give the journalists,” Buckley told The Capital Gazette.
President Donald Trump made the flag announcement Tuesday as part of a formal proclamation he signed to honor the victims.
“Our Nation shares the sorrow of those affected by the shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland,” the proclamation reads. “Americans across the country are united in calling upon God to be with the victims and to bring aid and comfort to their families and friends.”
Flags remained at half-mast across the country, as well as at U.S. embassies, consulates, and military installations, and aboard U.S. naval vessels through sunset Tuesday. Buckley said the city’s flags will stay at half-mast until the victims are buried.
As the story evolved Monday, it was unclear whether the White House explicitly denied Buckley’s first request. The mayor told The Baltimore Sun that he made the request Friday but hadn’t heard anything from the White House yet.
“I’m not saying that he’s denying it, but it might not be a priority,” Buckley said of Trump.
But The Capital Gazette reported Monday afternoon that Trump had denied the request outright, citing Buckley.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed, you know?… Is there a cutoff for tragedy?” the paper reported Buckley saying. “This was an attack on the press. It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”
During a daily press briefing on Tuesday, the White House disputed Buckley’s claim it declined his first request to lower flags in response to the tragedy.
“As soon as the president directly heard about the request made by the mayor, he asked that we reach out and verify that their mayor had made the request,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, according to ABC News. “And when we did, the president asked that the flags be lowered immediately. So it happened.”
“I’m not sure on the process but there’s certain protocol that is followed. It was,” Sanders continued. “But once the president heard about the mayor’s specific request to him he fulfilled the mayor’s request and ordered that the flags be lowered.”
Trump has repeatedly attacked the press over unfavorable coverage, going so far last year as to call news media “the enemy of the American People [sic].”
There’s no evidence the man who opened fire in The Capital Gazette, 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos, drew direct inspiration from Trump’s words. But critics say they set a dangerous tone coming from the commander-in-chief.
Trump resumed his attacks on the media in a tweet Tuesday morning, just a couple of hours before his proclamation on the Annapolis shooting went out.
Many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well! In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months. All of Asia is thrilled. Only the Opposition Party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2018
Under U.S. law, only the president or a state governor can order flags to half-mast. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered state flags lowered to half-mast Friday through Monday. Buckley reportedly considered ordering flags on city buildings lowered before the White House made its proclamation, according to The Capital Gazette, but decided not to because he did not want to “make people angry.”
“At this point in time, it would start to polarize people,” he told The Capital Gazette.
The shooting Thursday by 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos left five Capital Gazette staff dead: editor Gerald Fischman, 61; editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, 59; editor John McNamara, 56; sales assistant Rebecca Smith, 34; and reporter Wendi Winters, 65. Two others were injured.
Prosecutors have charged Ramos with five counts of first-degree murder.