Trump faces intensifying pushback over domestic use of military

Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks during a press briefing about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House

Esper, at Trump's encouragement, had already authorized the movement of about 1,300 active-duty Army units to military bases just outside the nation's capital, but they have not entered the city - and defense officials said some of the troops were beginning to return to their home bases Wednesday.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday (June 3) he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty forces to quell civil unrest for now, despite President Donald Trump's threats to militarise America's response to mass protests.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper said active-duty troops in a law enforcement role should be used in the United States "only in the most urgent and dire of situations", adding, "We are not in one of those situations now".

Axios reports that "a day after threatening to federalize forces to snuff out riots across the country, the president appears to be backing off the idea of invoking the Insurrection Act, sources familiar with his plans tell Axios".

The president wanted to make the aggressive action in the nation's capital - where he wields disproportionate powers - an example for the rest of the country, a senior White House official said Tuesday.

"I was not aware a photo op was happening", he said, adding that he also did not know that police had forcibly moved peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square to clear the way for Trump and his entourage. "In fact, the president does not have the right to unilaterally deploy USA military across American states".

"Furthermore, I am deeply anxious that as they execute their orders, the members of our military will be co-opted for political purposes". Almost 30 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew in Washington, U.S. Park Police repelled protesters with what they said were smoke canisters and pepper balls.

There has been widespread outrage - including from former officers - over the participation of Esper and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff were present at a photo op outside a church near the White House on Monday after the surrounding area had been cleared with gas canisters, mounted police and baton charges.

Chairman of Joint Chiefs assess military presence on the streets at Black Lives Matter protests
Trump Insurrection Act to send in military for protests

Esper told NBC News Tuesday night he didn't know Trump was going to hold a bible in front of the church, and had thought he was going to review troops.

"They were not aware that park police and law enforcement made the decision to clear the square", the official said.

Milley and Esper were on their way to the FBI's Washington field office to monitor protests with Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray when they were diverted to the White House to update the president.

"It must not be used in violation of those limits and I see little evidence that President Trump understands this fundamental premise".

Esper, asked if he regretted participating in the event, did not answer directly. "We need to dominate the battlespace".

"In retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand or allow some to suggest that we are militarizing the issue", he said.

Referring to Milley, he said fatigues are the appropriate uniform for a service member to wear at the government command center set up to monitor the protests, which he and Milley had scheduled to visit.

The US military is sharply increasing the number of National Guard forces in DC to potentially respond to protests over the death of an George Floyd, African-American man, who died in police custody. The only exception is when state conditions grossly violate federal laws, and the president has taken other actions, short of military force, to demand enforcement.


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