Smoke semantics?

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) What was the smoke? President Trump says authorities did not use tear gas to break up a demonstration outside the White House. Law enforcement sometimes shies away from calling it that because it evokes the horrors of war. But our Darren Perron learned this all may simply be semantics.

The federal police response in question involved peaceful protesters forcefully removed outside the White House and near the St. John's church.

The action came shortly after the president called on governors to dominate protesters.

President Trump then walked to the church to pose for a photo holding a Bible.

It struck a nerve with the Episcopal bishop there and the one here in Vermont.

But media accounts struck a nerve with the president and his supporters. The president wants a correction saying tear gas was not used.

But, in fact, by his own CDC's classification, it was tear gas. The CDC notes the term tear gas is often used for different substances used for crowd control. "Riot control agents, sometimes referred to as tear gas, are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes mouth throat lungs and skin."

Among the compounds listed as tear gas-- mace and pepper spray.

"It was very disturbing," Gary Margolis said.

Margolis served as a deputy sheriff, police officer and the University of Vermont's police chief. He disagrees with the use of force on peaceful protesters.

Vermont police used these measures during the 2004 Red Sox riots on the UVM campus: pepper spray, smoke canisters, rubber-pellet guns and what some police referred to as tear gas at the time, though not the tear gas that conjures up horrific images of war.

I was there covering it. Police didn't deploy these measures until vans started getting flipped, property was getting damaged and things were set on fire. That's when Margolis says it makes sense to move in.

"Because we want to disperse the crowd. We want to break it up. You're having trouble breathing, you're coughing. That was the impetus in that and to prevent people from getting hurt," Margolis said. "That was not a protest. That was a mob. A riot... What we saw in Washington was, from everything I've seen, a civil and not being hurt or threatened by circumstances of other rioting or looting. There's a difference between rioting and looting and exercising constitutional rights."

In addition to the CDC, many other national agencies and top health care professionals use the blanket term tear gas to describe any riot-control agents that cause eye irritation, including the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense.