Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday broke from President Trump by opposing invoking the Insurrection Act as nationwide protests and unrest mount following the death of George Floyd.
During a Wednesday briefing at the Pentagon, Esper contradicted Trump’s demand for governors to “dominate” protesters by activating the National Guard by arguing that active duty forces should only be used in a law enforcement role as a “last resort.”
“The option to use active duty forces should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations — we are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said, before adding that he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act that would allow the President to deploy military and National Guard troops to act as police forces.
Esper went on to address the backlash that has ensued over Trump’s surprise visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday, which occurred after federal police teargassed a peaceful crowd of protesters outside the White House to clear a path for him and several members of his administration.
Esper doubled down on his remarks during an interview with NBC News the night before, saying that he “didn’t know” where he was going when he and other Trump officials left the White House with the President for the unannounced visit to the church.
“I did know that following the President’s remarks on Monday evening that many of us were going to join President Trump and review the damage in Lafayette Park and at St. John’s Episcopal Church,” Esper said. “What I was not aware of was exactly where we were going when we arrived at the church and what the plans were once we got there.”
Esper said that although it was his and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley’s aim to meet with and thank members of the National Guard who were on duty at the park on Monday evening, the path that he and other Trump officials took to and from the church “didn’t afford us that opportunity.”
Watch Esper’s remarks below:
Defense Secretary Esper: "I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act." pic.twitter.com/ZJAVfs4E1e
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) June 3, 2020