This week's White House visit by Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan — an authoritarian who has cracked down on his own people — was controversial on its face, but it took a disturbing turn on Wednesday, when members of Erdogan's private security force attacked peaceful American protesters who had gathered outside the Turkish embassy.
The clash was caught on video by the Voice of America's Turkish service. One Erdogan security officer was seen knocking a protester to the ground and kicking him; another security officer followed suit. Six protesters were injured, including a police officer. At least one protester was clearly bloodied.
Erdogan was seen observing the fracas before retreating to the safety of the embassy.
"We should throw their ambassador the hell out of the United States," said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) after the incident. “These are not just average people that did this beating, this is Erdoğan’s security detail. Somebody told them to go and beat up on these peaceful demonstrators, and I think it should have repercussions, including identifying these people and bringing charges against them,” McCain said. “They violated American laws in the United States of America, so you cannot have that happen in the United States of America.”
The White House did not comment. The members of Erdogan's security team are subject to diplomatic immunity and cannot be prosecuted.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined McCain in admonishing Erdogan in a letter Thursday. "The violent response of your security detail to peaceful protesters is wholly unacceptable and, unfortunately, reflective of your government's treatment of the press, ethnic minority groups and political opponents," the two senators wrote, urging him to punish his bodyguards.
Erdogan visited the White House this week to ask Trump to stand down from backing Kurdish forces in Syria; according to the UK "Guardian," Trump said the U.S. would not. But a White House photo op, Trump decided Erdogan was worthy of a handshake, which he has been doling out to or withholding from world leaders like a teacher distributes candy to children who don't let their ADHD symptoms get too bad in the classroom.
Erodgan's spin aboard Trump's curiously constructed peace train reflects the American president's seemingly bottomless appetite for inviting authoritarians to the White House: The Turkish president's controversial visit followed the controversial visit of of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi. Those followed Trump's controversial invitation of the Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte to the White House.
All this preceded the controversial Oval Office visit of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at the request of Vladimir Putin. This exploded into an outright scandal last week, raising the possibility of a security breach by Russian spy services and higher-volume questions as to why the American press was excluded from the visit while the Russian press agency TASS was invited, and what Trump's continuing affection for the Russian president means.