In a statement made two days after Donald Trump threatened to use active-duty military soldiers against protesters nationwide, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he did not support this use of force. Esper said that invoking the Insurrection Act wasn’t warranted at this time and would only be used as a “last resort.”
“I say this not only as secretary of defense, but also as a former soldier, and a former member of the National Guard: 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,” Esper said at a briefing this morning. “We are not in one of those situations now.”
Two days earlier, Trump “vowed to unleash the armed forces on American streets if governors and mayors couldn’t stop the violent unrest accompanying protests against police brutality,” Vice News reported.
The Insurrection Act of 1807 gives the U.S. president the authority to call into service the U.S. Armed Forces and the National Guard in certain circumstances, for example civil disorder, insurrection and rebellion, to restore the peace. The 213-year-old law empowers the president to “override another law, the Posse Comitatus act, which generally bans using the military to enforce domestic laws,” Vice News reported.
In a rebuke to Trump, Esper said “I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
According to the Associated Press, documents revealed that 715 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division are stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Fort Belvoir in Virginia in case things escalate in the Capital area. Another 1,300 soldiers from two additional 82nd Airborne battalions are also on standby at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in a plan named Operation Themis.
In Esper’s briefing, he “criticized” the actions of the Minneapolis police, which prompted the nationwide protests after George Floyd died as a result of mechanical asphyxiation after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, and called the act “murder” and “a horrible crime.”
Esper came under fire for accompanying Trump for a “photo op” yesterday at a damaged church near the Capital when moments earlier authorities were ordered to clear the area of “peaceful protesters,” in which police used smoke cannisters and pepper balls. But police said the protesters got unruly when they were trying to install a fence around the area. Esper said he was unaware that they were heading to the church, which was burned during an earlier protest, and thought he was walking to look at the various destruction to the area.
“Look, I do everything I can to try and stay apolitical and try and stay out of situations that may appear political and sometimes I’m successful at doing that, and sometimes I’m not as successful” Esper said.