WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday ordered the 5,000 National Guard troops brought to Washington last week to quell protests against the death of a black man in police custody to begin to withdraw, saying the national capital was “under perfect control.”
“They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed,” the U.S. leader said on Twitter. “Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!”
I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C., now that everything is under perfect control. They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2020
Even as he withdrew the National Guard troops, however, key former U.S. military leaders continued to voice their opposition to Trump’s reported threat a week ago to use as many as 10,000 active duty military troops to augment local police in Washington against demonstrators protesting the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The death of the 46-year-old Floyd, who was held down on a city street for nearly nine minutes by a white policeman who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, has spawned nearly two weeks of protests in the U.S., some of them angry, violent clashes with authorities.
But tens of thousands of Americans protested peacefully in dozens of U.S. cities on Saturday against police abuse of authority against minorities, with few reports of clashes with authorities.
In the end, 1,600 members of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division were dispatched to Washington but not activated to calm the protests.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper broke with Trump last week, saying that active duty troops should only be used as a last resort to quell insurrection in the U.S., a stance Attorney General William Barr told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” show he also supported.
Barr, the nation’s top law enforcement official, disputed news accounts that Trump wanted 10,000 active duty military personnel ready to take on protesters.
Barr said he met with Trump last Monday at the White House after violent clashes in Washington on the night of May 31.
“I was called over and asked if I would coordinate federal civil agencies and that the Defense Department would provide whatever support I needed or we needed to protect federal property at the White House, federal personnel” Barr said.
“The decision was made to have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops,” he said. “But everyone agreed that the use of regular troops was a last resort and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources, they should be. I felt, and the secretary of Defense felt, we had adequate resources and wouldn't need to use federal troops. But in case we did, we wanted them nearby.”
He said Trump “never asked or suggested that we needed to deploy regular troops at that point. It's been done from time to time in our history. We try to avoid it. And I'm happy that we were able to avoid it on this occasion.”
Acting Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf rejected the suggestion that bringing active duty military personnel to Washington amounted to “overkill.”
Wolf told the “Fox News Sunday” show that U.S. law enforcement authorities need to “make sure we keep all our tools in the toolbox.”
But former Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, once the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, voiced his opposition to use of active duty military personnel to control demonstrations in the U.S. as Trump wanted.
“We have a military to fight our enemies, not our own people,” Mullen told Fox News. He said the U.S. military could lose its bond with the American public with use of troops against protesters.
“We could lose that trust when you don’t really need that force,” Mullen said.
Retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, another former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Mullen’s thoughts, telling ABC News’ “This Week” show, “America is not a battleground. We have to be very careful in how we use our military.”
He said the U.S. military lost standing with the American public five decades ago during contentious, often violent protests against the Vietnam War.
“It took us a while to improve the relationship with the American public,” he said. “The relationship has to be one of trust.”