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Defense Secretary Opposes Use of Active-Duty Troops to Police US Cities

June 3, 2020 by Dan McCue
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper holds a news conference at the Pentagon, June 3, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jack Sanders)

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday he opposes the use of active-duty military to police U.S. cities and contain current street protests over the death of George Floyd.

“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations in support of local law enforcement,” Esper said at a news conference at the Pentagon Wednesday.

“I say this not only as Secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” he added. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

Esper’s statement appears to put him at odds with President Donald Trump, who has warned state governors that he is willing to use the Insurrection Act of 1807 to send troops to “dominate” the streets if they can’t get a handle on the unrest.

Esper 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.

Earlier Wednesday, the president appeared to be taking credit for the deployment of federal and other law enforcement officers to Washington,D.C., saying it offered a model to states on how to stop violence accompanying some protests nationwide.

Since the protests over Floyd’s death in police custody flared over the weekend, troops deployed to assist with protest response around the country have been National Guard forces under state control.

Asked whether Trump retains confidence in Esper, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday, “As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future.”

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