At the height of the nationwide protests over the police murder of George Floyd, then-President Donald Trump asked if authorities could simply shoot the Black Lives Matter protesters who had taken to the streets in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, according to a new memoir.
The account came from former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, whose memoir was quoted by Axios Monday.
“Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Trump asked of the protestors, according to Axios’ report on Esper’s book.
On June 1, 2020, protesters around Lafayette Square, near the White House, were cleared by law enforcement so that Trump and several senior administration officials could stage their now-infamous photo-op in front of a church, during which Trump showed off a Bible for the camera. Esper was among those officials.
Trump’s question, Esper reportedly wrote, came that week. According to Axios, he wrote that it “was surreal, sitting in front of the Resolute desk, inside the Oval Office, with this idea weighing heavily in the air, and the president red faced and complaining loudly about the protests under way in Washington, D.C.”
“The good news — this wasn’t a difficult decision,” the former Defense Secretary added. “The bad news — I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid.”
On June 1, authorities didn’t use live ammunition to clear the crowd, but they did use tear gas. That show of force came after reports that Trump had hidden in a White House bunker a few days prior in response to the protests.
Esper claimed at a congressional hearing the following month that he didn’t know who gave the order to clear the area.