NBC Reporter: Historic Church Set Aflame Experienced 'Some Vandalism'

June 4, 2020

NBC reporter Tom Costello said the historic St. John's Episcopal Church experienced "some vandalism" after the church was lit on fire Sunday night.

Costello was reporting on air from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning when he pointed out the proximity of the church.

"Let me just give you the lay of the land. Across the street here is St. John's Church. As you know, that's the church that had some vandalism, and President Trump stood in front of with the Bible a few nights ago," Costello said.

The fire that burned in St. John's drew widespread attention, including from the NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C. A Fox News broadcast showed the fire burning in the basement of the church.

The fire came during Sunday night's rioting and looting, which followed a day of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Firefighters extinguished the fire before it caused significant structural damage. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said no one who works for the church was in the building at the time of the fire, and when she went to the church Monday morning, the damage had been contained.

The church's nursery was mostly destroyed, while some of its windows were smashed and graffiti was sprayed on the building. The day after the fire, park police dispersed protesters in front of the White House to allow President Trump to pose for a photo holding a Bible in front of the church. The bishop criticized the photo, saying that Trump was spreading a "message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for."

Every president since James Madison has attended a service at the church, which held its first service in 1816.

Costello's description of the fire as "some vandalism" was part of a pattern of downplaying the impact of the riots from some members of the media. While peaceful protests have occurred during the day, America's major cities have been ransacked by widespread looting for several consecutive nights.