WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark Esper has reversed course and decided not to return active-duty troops to their home bases after they were deployed near Washington for possible action in suppressing violent protests.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Wednesday afternoon that Esper changed his mind after a meeting at the White House.
“It is our intent at this point not to bring in active forces, we don’t think we need them at this point,” McCarthy said. “But it’s prudent to have the reserve capability in the queue, on a short string.”
Earlier Wednesday, Esper acted to return to their home bases some of about 1,300 active-duty troops deployed to outside Washington after protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police gave way to violent clashes, widespread property damage and looting.
In a morning press conference, Esper declared his opposition to putting active-duty troops on the streets of US cities as President Trump had called for.
“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. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper said.
The defense secretary spoke in opposition to President Trump’s vow to use troops if states and local officials did not restore order.
“I am mobilizing all available federal resources, civilian and military, to stop rioting and looting, to end the destruction,” Trump said in a Monday speech. “If a city or 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.”
After those remarks, Esper joined Trump for a walk through Lafayette Park, the epicenter of protests.
The law was last used in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush to quell Los Angeles riots sparked by the not guilty verdicts for the four police officers in the brutal beating of motorist Rodney King.
Esper spoke in opposition to using troops inside cities after a night of relative calm Tuesday in the nation’s capital and some other areas, which seemed to make the prospect of a military role increasingly unlikely.
In Washington, local National Guard troops were activated over the weekend and were bolstered by guardsmen from other states and officers from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Prisons, the FBI and other agencies.
Trump said in a Wednesday morning radio interview that order had been restored in Washington.
“Washington is in great shape. We called out the National Guard after the first night,” Trump said. “We had no problem at all last night. We had substantial dominant force and it — we have to have a dominant force. Maybe it doesn’t sound good to say it, but you have to have a dominant force. We need law and order.”
But Trump said he didn’t like what he was seeing elsewhere.
“We can solve that problem in New York. And, in fact, if they don’t get their act straightened out, I will solve it, I’ll solve it fast,” Trump said.