On Friday, President Donald Trump hid in an underground bunker below the White House as hundreds of protesters demonstrated against police brutality in Washington, D.C.—demonstrations first started in Minneapolis after a white police officer killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was handcuffed on the ground. Unfortunately, we don’t have any photos of Trump retreating into the bunker on Friday, but we do have old photos from what was likely the last time it was used: September 11, 2001.
The White House bunker, officially known as the Presidential Emergency Operations Center here in the 21st century, was first built in the early 1940s during World War II under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Harry Truman, who would follow Roosevelt, overhauled the White House in 1948 and expanded the underground bunker while he was at it.
The bunker was used by White House staff after the September 11 attacks in 2001, and there’s no indication that it’s been used in the 19 years since. As far as we know, President Barack Obama never used the underground bunker despite widespread protests in D.C. during his tenure organized by the so-called Tea Party. There is speculation, however, that the bunker got an upgrade sometime between 2010 and 2012 when $375 million was spent to upgrade something at the White House.
Photos were released of the bunker in 2015 and 2016 by the U.S. National Archives that give us a peek at what the underground facility looks like, at least when White House staff fled there after the September 11 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Washington D.C. in 2001.
The bunker is positioned underneath the East Wing of the White House and that’s where senior White House staff went on 9/11. President George W. Bush was in Florida at the time of the terrorist attacks, but staff members like National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney can be seen in the photos strategizing from the room.
According to the 2008 book, Test by Fire: The War Presidency of George W. Bush by Robert Swansbrough, Cheney was “literally lifted and carried” by Secret Service agents to the bunker after it became obvious that the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York were no accident. The fear was that another plane was likely headed to crash into the White House.
It’s not clear if President Trump was carried to the bunker on Friday, nor is it clear how many agents would be required to do such a thing. The president is reportedly 239 pounds, something that’s a bit hard to believe if you’ve ever seen a photo of the man.
It’s protocol for immediate family members under the protection of the Secret Service to be taken down to the bunker as well, just as First Lady Laura Bush was on September 11, despite her husband being out of town. She described what it was like to enter the bunker in her memoir, which was released in 2010:
I was hustled inside and downstairs through a pair of big steel doors that closed behind me with a loud hiss, forming an airtight seal. I was now in one of the unfinished subterranean hallways underneath the White House, heading for the PEOC, the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, built for President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II. We walked along old tile floors with pipes hanging from the ceiling and all kinds of mechanical equipment. The PEOC is designed to be a command center during emergencies, with televisions, phones, and communications facilities.
I was ushered into the conference room adjacent to the PEOC’s nerve center. It’s a small room with a large table. National Security Advisor Condi Rice, Counselor to the President Karen Hughes, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, and Dick and Lynne Cheney were already there, where they had been since the morning. Lynne, whose agents had brought her to the White House just after the first attack, came over and hugged me. Then she said quietly into my ear, “The plane that hit the Pentagon circled the White House first.”
The Secret Service even wanted the Bushes to sleep in the underground bunker that night after the president arrived from Florida in the evening.
At 7:10 that night, George strode into the PEOC. Early that afternoon, he had conducted a secure videoconference from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska with the CIA and FBI directors, as well as the military Joint Chiefs of Staff and the vice president and his national security staff, giving instructions and getting briefings on the latest information. Over the objections of the Secret Service, he had insisted upon returning home. We hugged and talked with the Cheneys a bit. Then the Secret Service detail suggested that we spend the night there, belowground. They showed us the bed, a foldout that looked like it had been installed when FDR was president. George and I stared at it, and we both said no, George adding, “We’re not going to sleep down here. We’re going to go upstairs and you can get us if something happens.” He said, “I’ve got to get sleep, in our own bed.” George was preparing to speak to the nation from the Oval Office, to reassure everyone and to show that the president was safely back in Washington, ready to respond.
First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron were likely taken down to the bunker on Friday as well, according to CNN, which spoke with two sources familiar with the First Family’s movements over the weekend. It’s not clear if any of the president’s other staff joined the family in hiding from the American public.
President Trump, arguably one of the most cowardly men to ever hold the office, sent plenty of tweets after emerging from the bunker to show he was a real tough guy. And Trump is threatening to designate “antifa” as a terrorist organization. Antifa, which stands for anti-fascist, is a leaderless movement of people who oppose fascism and it’s unlikely that Trump can legally designate a domestic organization as a terrorist threat. But things being illegal hasn’t stopped Trump before.
We likely won’t see photos of Trump in the bunker for many years, provided we see them at all. The Trump regime has systematically and illegally destroyed official records throughout the Trump presidency, according to multiple reports, and there’s no telling how many behind-the-scenes photos and documents from this era we may eventually get to see.
The president has no plans to address the nation as protests rage in at least 140 U.S. cities. But it’s probably best that President Trump keeps his mouth shut during a time of national crisis. With cops rioting in the streets and Trump clearly trying to just fuel the unrest, such an idiotic man can only do more damage than good at this point.
Stay in your bunker, Mr. President. It’ll all be over in November when you can hopefully get your ass booted to the curb.
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.