United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Wednesday came out against President Donald Trump’s suggestion to send the military to quell protests around the country against governors’ wishes.
Trump this week lambasted governors as “weak” for not being more aggressive against protesters. The president threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law aimed at rebellions, to deploy the military into certain states even if governors opposed the idea.
“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are 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 threatened Monday.
But Esper broke with the president during a news briefing two days later.
“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 situations,” Esper said. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Esper also criticized the use of medical evacuation helicopters seen on video being used to try to chase away protesters Monday in Washington.
“When you’re landing that low in the city, it looks unsafe to me,” Esper said, adding that he directed the Army to investigate the incident. The D.C. National Guard launched its own investigation, as well.
Trump’s threats on Monday were underscored by Attorney General William Barr’s order to federal forces to clear Lafayette Park so the president could walk to nearby St. John’s Church for a photo-op. Police backed by the National Guard unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang shells on peaceful protesters to clear the way.