According to ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl’s new book, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper said there would have been active-duty troops with “rifles and bayonets” on American city streets during 2020 protests over police brutality if he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley had not challenged former President Donald Trump.
Following the May 2020 police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Trump vowed to deploy the military during the height of countrywide anti-racism riots. Looting, rioting, and violence were reported in several areas as a result of the protests.
“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump declared on June 1, 2020.
This happened on the same day as Trump’s notorious photo-op with a Bible in front of a church near the White House, after police deployed tear gas to disperse demonstrators nearby.
Milley and Esper were observed strolling over to St. John’s Church with Trump that day, a very contentious action that seemed to indicate their acceptance of the president’s threats and conduct. However, Karl stated that the two of them “argued with Trump earlier in the day, telling him it would be a mistake to invoke the Insurrection Act.” The Insurrection Act is a piece of legislation that allows the president to deploy active duty soldiers in specific situations.
On June 3, Esper took his objection to Trump’s use of the Insurrection Act a step further by publicly announcing it. It was considered as a clear rebuke to the president.
“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said.
Trump was furious with Esper for opposing the Insurrection Act, according to Karl, and slammed his defense secretary at a White House meeting that also included Milley.
Trump informed Esper that only the president has the authority to use the Insurrection Act. Pushing back, Esper explained to Trump that he’d just stated his opposition to activating the statute and hadn’t directly rejected the president.
According to Karl, Esper was sending a “clear but unstated” message that he would retire rather than carry out the command.
Milley also publicly apologized for being there for Trump’s church photo-op around the same time. “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” Milley made the remarks during a graduation address to National Defense University students.
Months after Trump departed the White House, Karl asked Esper what would have occurred if he and Milley had not pushed Trump on the topic of military deployment to quell protesters.
“I think we would have had active-duty troops on the streets, you know, with rifles and bayonets,” Esper said Karl, adding that Trump wanted 10,000 active-duty troops in DC before deploying them around the nation to deal with “violence and protests.”
Following his discussion with Trump over troop deployment, Esper said that his main concern was “to prevent the use of the military against American citizens during ‘the days before, the day of, and the days after the election.’” Karl wrote.
Milley had something to say about that day as well.
After Trump used him and other senior officials to stage that before-mentioned contentious Bible photo op at a church in Washington, DC, Milley was outraged and said he was “f**king done with this sh*t,” according to a new book.
On June 1, 2020, Milley, Esper, then-Attorney General William Barr, and others were summoned to the White House and told to “line up” immediately after Trump gave a Rose Garden address threatening to send US troops to quash anti-racism riots around the country.
Reporters and cameras crowded the Trump-led throng as it marched through Lafayette Square, while police used tear gas and pepper balls on nonviolent demonstrators to evacuate the area. Later, outside St. John’s Episcopal Church, Trump was photographed holding a bible.
According to the new book, “Peril” by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa,, Esper felt “sick” when he discovered he was taking part in the photo op.
Esper turned to Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as they walked to the chapel, and was described as saying, “We’ve been duped. We’re being used.”
Milley agreed and turned to the chief of staff and said, “This is f**ked up and this is a political event and I’m out of here. We’re getting the fuck out of here. I’m fucking done with this sh*t.”
Milley then walked away from the group.
According to the book, the former general was embarrassed to have been dragged into a clearly political gathering and felt like he was “he was looking into a personal abyss,” the book said.
He addressed a note to the joint chiefs of staff and key Pentagon officials the next day, reminding them of their responsibilities to the country and the Constitution.
“Please remind all of our troops and leaders that we will uphold the values of our nation, and operate consistent with national laws and our own high standards of conduct at all times,” he said in the memo, a copy of which was published in “Peril.” Milley also included a handwritten note at the end, saying, “We all committed our lives to the idea that is America — we will stay true to that oath and the American people.”
According to Woodward and Costa, Milley was so troubled by the photo op that he pondered retiring. According to reports, the general asked former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who also served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if he should resign.
“F**k no!” Powell responded, according to the book. “I told you never to take the job. You never should have taken the job. Trump’s a fucking maniac.”
Several former top military officials, including Powell, have criticized the picture session. “We have a Constitution. And we have to follow that Constitution. And the President has drifted away from it,” Powell said.
Milley “stayed in his role”, but in a keynote speech at National Defense University’s 2020 graduation ceremony on June 11, he publicly apologized for participating in the photo session, calling it a “mistake.”