For the first time in the United States’ birth as a nation 231 years ago, the President of the United States used armed personnel outside the National Guard or the U.S. Armed Forces.
On June 3, 2020, armed men in green paramilitary uniforms with face coverings and wearing no identification and insignias — some wearing tennis shoes — were deployed around the White House perimeter. When asked whom they work for, they responded: “We’re with the Department of Justice.” But they didn’t add any details as to who they really are, which makes one wonder: Are they private contractors or mercenaries hired from security agencies similar to the controversial Blackwater operators used in Iraq and Afghanistan? Some carried rifles and were equipped with body armor, riot shields, and pepper spray canisters.
Another group of armed men clad in black uniforms but with no insignia or name IDs were found out to be from the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is under the Department of Justice. When BOP officials were asked why they were not wearing any ID, the reporter was told, “They are serving a broader mission.” Whoa! Like what?
It all began on June 1 when Trump met with Attorney General Bill Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley at the Oval Office. The meeting became heated and contentious when Trump demanded that the military deploy 10,000 active-duty troops in the streets immediately. Barr, Esper, and Milley objected to Trump’s demand.
To placate Trump, Esper and Milley used a call with the nation’s governors to implore them to call up the National Guard in their own states.
That same day, the Pentagon started bringing in 1,600 active-duty troops to bases just outside the District of Columbia. Esper and Milley then went to the FBI’s Washington Field Office, where the command center for the military and law enforcement response team was located.
Esper and Milley were then asked to stay and then accompany Trump on the walk across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church. Neither of them realized the purpose of the walk was to stage a photo op in front of the church.
Prior to the walk, Barr sent armed personnel with rubber bullets and teargas to clear away peaceful protesters, along with journalists and Episcopal priests who were standing outside St. John’s Church, just so Trump could walk the street and hold a Bible for photo op.
What happened to the 10,000 troops Trump demanded from Esper? Once again, typical of Trump denials, and to avoid any embarrassment, the White House denied Trump demanded that 10,000 active-duty troops be deployed immediately.
By Wednesday, June 3, Esper ordered 700 troops from the elite 82nd Airborne Division to return to Fort Bragg. Esper then delivered a statement in the Pentagon briefing room that he was opposed to invoking the Insurrection Act to send active-duty troops to the streets, which infuriated Trump. The following day, Esper sent home 350 of the troops and kept 350 who were placed on alert.
What happened that day is typical of Trump’s presidency – divisive, chaotic, and prone to violence, which reminds me of what he said in his inaugural address that has come to be known as the “American Carnage” speech. In his speech, instead of using it to unite and inspire the American people, he presented, as one writer had said, “A vision of America so dark and violent it might have been the opening scene from a Batman movie: ‘Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.’
“And the crime, and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
“Four years later, Trump’s description of America reads like a prophecy. He has presided over an unimaginably precipitous decline. Disease, economic collapse, and violence grip the country from coast to coast.”
George Floyd’s killing
And a fortnight ago, as demonstrators poured into the streets to protest the brutal killing of George Floyd, and police violence against blacks all over the country, Trump called for more violence. “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time,” Trump told a group of governors in a phone call. “They’re going to run all over you, you’ll look like a bunch of jerks. You have to dominate, and you have to arrest people, and you have to try people and they have to go to jail for long periods of time.”
What happened on June 1 clearly puts the “American Experiment” in question. For the first time, a sitting president had attempted to set aside the idea of a government ruled by law not by man.
The nation was so close to chaos at that moment. Had Barr, Esper, and Milley acceded to Trump’s demand to send 10,000 active-duty troops to quell the protests, fighting would have ensued, bloodshed would have happened, and chaos and terror would have reigned.
But Trump was not thinking rationally. He was driven by one thing and that is to win re-election… by any means. His decisions were made with one objective in mind – he has to continue his presidency by all means including rigging the vote, terrorizing the voters and if all else fails, postponing the November election and declaring martial law.
He knew he could impose martial law easily. All he has to do is create an atmosphere of chaos and mayhem, and invoke the ˆInsurrection Act,” which would then call in the military to quell civil disturbances across the country.
But the “insurrection” has to be widespread enough to warrant the deployment of armed military troops in key cities. The process has already begun with anti-racial protests around the country, nay, around the world. And it seems that he’s not going to stop the carnage. He chose not to give a national address to stop the hemorrhaging. On the contrary, he encourages the rampage simply by tweeting inflammatory texts that hit the emotional nerves of people of color and their white sympathizers, a movement that is phenomenally growing fast. For the first time in a long time, the American people of all colors are united in demanding justice for George Floyd, a black man drawn into the melee not of his own choosing but probably by providence to call into question black man’s bondage in a society divided along racial lines. As some of the placards say: “No justice, no peace” and “Black Lives Matter,” which suggests that blacks live in a society that takes black lives for granted and abused. And as George wan saying, “I can’t breathe” repeatedly for eight minutes and 46 seconds until his life was snuffed out recorded in a heart-stopping video that went viral on the Internet, the American viewers’ emotions broke a sympathetic chord or perhaps guilt for depriving black Americans’ of their rightful place in a society bereft of racial and social justice for the past 400 years.
Backlash from military leaders
A week later, Milley apologized for walking behind Trump wearing his combat uniform along Lafayette Square together with Esper, Burr, and other Trump underlings. The walk followed the forceful dispersal of protesters using teargas and flash bangs to pave the way for Trump’s ‘victory walk.” Milley called it a “mistake,” saying his presence “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” In a pre-recorded speech to a group of graduates from the National Defense University, he said: “As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune. As many of you saw, the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society.” He said he regretted what he did.
Retired four-star generals and former defense secretaries also expressed their disagreement with Trump’s use of military troops to suppress civil protests.
Among them were: former Marine Corps Commander and Defense Secretary James Mattis, Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, Marine Corps General John Allen, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, Air Force General Richard Myers, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Navy Admiral William McRaven, Navy Admiral James Stavridis, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, Air Force Gen. Mike Hayden, former defense secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Ash Carter, and William Perry.
Sensing a “mutinous” reaction from the nation’s former military commanders, Trump backed off.
Mobilizing armed militia
And as Trump ramps up his taunting tweets, his base responds by mobilizing armed militia around the country. They’re ready to heed Trump’s “call to arms.” All he has to do is give them the signal with a tweet just like when he tweeted “LIBERATE” to Michigan, Virginia, and Minnesota, which brought out his supporters armed with semi-automatic rifles to their state capitols.
As the nation awaits Trump’s next move amidst the double whammy – Covid-19 pandemic and widespread protests — that hit the country at a time of uncertainty and confusion, one wonders if Trump would cross the line that would bring America to a crossroad, one leading to anarchy and chaos and the other to racial justice.