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Bucking Trump, Pentagon chief Esper says no need for military response to Floyd protests

“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 situations," Esper said.

Image: Mark Esper
Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks during a press briefing about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, on May 15, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP

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Breaking with President Donald Trump, Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he doesn't support using the military to quell violent protests triggered by the death of George Floyd.

“I don’t think they need to be used,” Esper told NBC News in an exclusive interview Tuesday night. “We have more than enough National Guard capacity out there.”

Esper expanded on those remarks in a press briefing on Wednesday.

“I say this not only as Secretary of Defense but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard,” Esper said.

“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 situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

Trump on Monday raised the specter of invoking the 1807 law in a Rose Garden address on Monday. Speaking at the same time as federal officers used force to clear peaceful protesters from outside the White House, Trump threatened to use the military to stamp out the continuing unrest across the country.

“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said.

In his Wednesday remarks, Esper said he believes the National Guard is “best suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations in support of local enforcement.”

The death of Floyd, whose final moments under the knee of a Minnesota police officer were captured on camera, set off days-long protests across the country, some of them violent.

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