Jun 5, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Former national security officials to Trump: Military should have "no role" in protests

Donald trump sitting

President Trump. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

More than 280 former senior U.S. diplomats and military leaders came down on President Trump, saying the military has "no role" when Americans are exercising their right to free speech, according to a letter obtained by Foreign Policy.

The big picture: Trump has been battling with the Pentagon this week over whether to deploy troops to cities across the U.S. to squash protests that have followed the death of George Floyd. The response from former military leaders was swift and harsh, a rare instance in political matters.

What they're saying:

  • "We called out violations of human rights and the authoritarian regimes that deployed their military against their own citizens," the former high-ranking officials wrote. "We condemn all criminal acts against persons and property, but cannot agree that responding to these acts is beyond the capabilities of local and state authorities.” 
  • “There is no role for the U.S. military in dealing with American citizens exercising their constitutional right to free speech, however uncomfortable that speech may be for some."

Background: This week, Trump was rebuffed by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper over the physical force and pepper balls used to disperse crowds from outside the White House so the president could snap a photo.

Yes, but: Elected officials and police departments across the country are reporting less violence and fewer arrests than earlier in the week. Cities have even abandoned their curfews and emergency declarations.

Go deeper: D.C. mayor asks Trump to withdraw military and federal law enforcement

Go deeper