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Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump walked back comments on Friday about the military engaging with migrants who throw rocks at them, saying there aren't plans to fire at people at the border, but to arrest them instead.

The big picture: What Trump originally said about the military considering rocks "a firearm because there's not much difference" prompted backlash and questioning regarding the military's authorized use of force in similar situations. The military's rules allow its members to act in self-defense, but typically "proportional" to the hostility they're facing.

"Anybody throwing stones, rocks, like they did to Mexico...where they badly hurt police and soldiers of Mexico, we will consider that a firearm because there's not much difference when you get hit in the face with a rock. ... They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back. We're going to consider it — I told them, consider it a rifle."
— Trump said Friday
Military rules of self-defense

An internal Pentagon memo obtained by the Washington Post says that troops are authorized to use deadly force in defense of "all persons, foreign or domestic, who are faced with imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm, and where lesser means have failed or cannot be reasonably employed."

  • According to the rules of engagement (ROE), responses from the military must be "proportional to the provocation," and that force "must be reasonable in nature, duration, and scope to the perceived or demonstrated threat."
  • And the rule of the use of force (RUF) authorizes military personnel to "exercise individual self-defense in response to a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent."
Troop activities are limited by law

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 restricts the U.S. military from acting as law enforcement on U.S. soil.

  • This means troops will not be authorized to "detain immigrants, seize drugs from smugglers or have any direct involvement in stopping" the migrant caravan, the Military Times reports. Instead, troops will "largely mirror that of the existing National Guard" already at the border.
Customs and Border Patrol

CBP, however, appears to have slightly more leeway in what constitutes the application of deadly force. CBP did not initially respond to request for comment.

  • In the 2014 Guidelines and Procedures Handbook, it says CBP officers and agents "may use deadly force only when necessary...when the officer/agent has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger or serious physical injury or death."
  • They define "serious physical injury" as something which "creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health...or involved serious concussive impact to the head."
What they're saying
  • Captain Bill Speaks, director of the Research and Analysis Division at the Pentagon, told Axios: "We will not discuss hypothetical situations or specific measures within our rules on the use of force, but our forces are trained professionals who always have the inherent right of self-defense. I would also emphasize that our forces are in support of DHS and CBP, who are performing law enforcement activities."
  • Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, retired U.S. Army officer and CNN analyst, tweeted: "[T]here is no leader in the military - Officer or NCO - who would allow a soldier to shoot at an individual throwing a rock. They know that violates the rules of engagement, the law of land warfare & the values those in the military believe. It would be an unlawful order."

Go deeper

Ipsos poll: COVID trick-or-treat

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note ±3.3% margin of error for the total sample size; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About half of Americans are worried that trick-or-treating will spread coronavirus in their communities, according to this week's installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: This may seem like more evidence that the pandemic is curbing our nation's cherished pastimes. But a closer look reveals something more nuanced about Americans' increased acceptance for risk around activities in which they want to participate.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: The good and bad news about antibody therapies — Fauci: Hotspots have materialized across "the entire country."
  2. World: Belgium imposes lockdown, citing "health emergency" due to influx of cases.
  3. Economy: Conference Board predicts economy won’t fully recover until late 2021.
  4. Education: Surge threatens to shut classrooms down again.
  5. Technology: The pandemic isn't slowing tech.
  6. Travel: CDC replaces COVID-19 cruise ban with less restrictive "conditional sailing order."
  7. Sports: High school football's pandemic struggles.
  8. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Updated 10 hours ago - Economy & Business

Dunkin' Brands agrees to $11B Inspire Brands sale

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Dunkin' Brands, operator of both Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, agreed on Friday to be taken private for nearly $11.3 billion, including debt, by Inspire Brands, a restaurant platform sponsored by private equity firm Roark Capital.

Why it matters: Buying Dunkin’ will more than double Inspire’s footprint, making it one of the biggest restaurant deals in the past 10 years. This could ultimately set up an IPO for Inspire, which already owns Arby's, Jimmy John's and Buffalo Wild Wings.