Early in the afternoon, Esper was ordering military units brought to Washington this week to go back to their bases, seemingly not needed as clashes between protesters and security forces around the White House had dissipated.
But after less than supportive public words from the White House Press Secretary, Esper reversed course, and kept those units in the nation's capital area.
The Associated Press quickly reported that Esper had changed his orders after a White House meeting with President Trump.
In the area around the White House blocked off by a combination of soldiers, police, and unidentified federal paramilitary security forces, there were clear signs of the U.S. military, with troop transport trucks being used to block streets north of the White House.
It was not clear how long the area around Lafayette Square would be cordoned off, as a large number of demonstrators and others flocked to the area on Wednesday.
"Eight minutes, 46 seconds!" protesters chanted, referencing the amount of time that a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the head and neck of George Floyd, killing him last week.
At various times around Washington - from the U.S. Capitol to streets near the White House - demonstrators chanted, "I can't breathe," the last words of Floyd.