USA

Defense Secretary Mark Esper opposes Trump on use of military in riots

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.

Nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington
Nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington
Defense Secretary Mark Esper visits DC National Guard military officers guarding the White House on Monday.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Protests against the death in Minneapolis custody of George Floyd, in Washington
Protests against the death in Minneapolis custody of George Floyd, in Washington
Defense Secretary Mark Esper talks to a member of DC National Guard in Washington on Monday.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Donald Trump, William Barr, Mark Esper, Robert O’Brien, Kayleigh McEnany, Mark Meadows
Donald Trump, William Barr, Mark Esper, Robert O’Brien, Kayleigh McEnany, Mark Meadows
President Donald Trump stands outside St. John's Church across Lafayette Park from the White House on Monday.

AP/Patrick Semansky

U.S. President Trump holds a photo opp in front of St John's Church in Washington
U.S. President Trump holds a photo opp in front of St John's Church in Washington
President Donald Trump walks with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General Bill Barr and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien during a photo op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Protesters Demonstrate In D.C. Against Death Of George Floyd By Police Officer In Minneapolis
Protesters Demonstrate In D.C. Against Death Of George Floyd By Police Officer In Minneapolis
Law enforcement responds during a protest near Lafayette Park ahead of President Trump's trip to St. John's Church on Monday.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

US-POLITICS-RACE-UNREST
US-POLITICS-RACE-UNREST
Protestors take a knee and raise their fists in Lafayette Square near the White House on Monday.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

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