Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that he opposes the use of the military to quell violence in US cities, a stance that runs counter to President Trump’s vow to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 in states with uncontrolled looting.
Esper also said at a morning press conference he was unaware that he was joining Trump for what the Pentagon chief called a “photo op” at an arson-damaged church near the White House on Monday.
“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. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper said.
The news conference came after Esper faced criticism from former military leaders on his decision to join Trump at the church. Shortly before that visit, authorities cleared the area of protests using smoke and pepper bombs, though US Park Police say it was because they were attacked while attempting to install a new fence.
“I did know that we were going to the church. I was not aware a photo op was happening,” Esper said.
“Of course the president drags a large press pool along with him. Look, I do everything I can to try and stay apolitical and try and stay out of situations that may appear political and sometimes I’m successful at doing that, and sometimes I’m not as successful.”
The defense secretary’s remarks ended with his announcement that he would be going to the White House.