James N. Mattis headshot, former US Defense Secretary, graphic element on gray
Jim Mattis, Donald Trump's former secretary of defense.

WASHINGTON - Jim Mattis, Donald Trump's former secretary of defense who had resigned to protest the withdrawal of American troops from Syria, accused the U.S. president of trying to "divide" America.

"In my lifetime, Donald Trump is the first president who doesn't try to bring the Americans together, who doesn't even pretend to try," he wrote in a statement posted online by The Atlantic on Wednesday.

"Instead, he is trying to divide us," said the former general of the Marines, who had so far displayed his reservations without ever commenting directly on Trump.

"I observed the events of this week, angry and dismayed," he continued.

Since the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody, a wave of historic anger has risen in American cities, denouncing racism, police violence and social inequalities. Tens of thousands of protesters protested peacefully across the country, but looting and riots also marred the movement.

Trump has used a martial tone and threatened to resort to the military to subdue the streets.

"We must not be distracted by a handful of outlaws,” Mattis wrote. “The demonstrations are tens of thousands of principled people who insist that we live up to our values.”

"We must reject and hold accountable those in power who mock our Constitution," he added.