Over 300 veterans have signed onto an open letter encouraging members of the National Guard to respond to the "moral choice" in front of them by refusing orders to deploy against protesters in streets across the nation.
"We urge you to have the courage to do the right thing," the letter says. "Refuse activation orders."
Protests over the May 25 killing of unarmed black man George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers have spread around the country, leading to confrontations between demonstrators and heavily armed police.
The open letter was coordinated by About Face: Veterans Against the War, a group that describes itself as composed of "post-9/11 service members and veterans organizing to end a foreign policy of permanent war and the use of military weapons, tactics, and values in communities across the country." It was released the same day President Donald Trump threatened protesters with violence, tweeting that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."
Referencing that tweet, the letter urges other veterans to remember that "it is your community members who fill the streets, while your Commander in Chief tweets about using you to murder people over something as insignificant as property damage."
The letter asks the Guard members to recall the military branch's "deadly legacy" including the 1970 Kent State shootings and also recognize that the consequences for obeying activation orders could be grave.
"We know the consequences you may face for disobeying orders. Many of us have faced them ourselves. And many of us live with the consequences of following orders we shouldn't have, and can tell you that the cost of moral injury is far greater."
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If you know anybody in the National Guard, the GI rights hotline # is 1-877-447-4487.— Brittany DeBarros (@BrittDeBarros) June 1, 2020
I will also personally speak to them as a veteran if they like. DM me.
Army veteran Brittany DeBarros of Veterans Against the War, who helped organize the letter, criticized Trump for his move Friday evening to hide in an underground bunker while protests broke out outside of the White House.
"It is asinine for a rich man hiding in a bunker to ask these troops, most of whom probably signed up to pay for access to college and healthcare, to take actions that will inevitably lead to more violence and haunt them for the rest of their lives," she said in a statement Tuesday.
DeBarros expanded on those possible consequences in an interview last week with In These Times' Sarah Lazare:
In the military, we're conditioned to think once you sign the dotted line you are trapped, you have no choice, no agency, you should avoid any political speech. I think that's not true. In a moment like this, I just want people to stop what they are doing and understand they do have a choice and at the end of the day if they participate in something that turns into horrifying violence, it might be enough to tell other people I was doing what I had to, but that's not going to be enough for you to live with. I wish more of us had known we could pause and say, "Do I really support this?"
According to the National Guard, as of Monday morning over 17,000 Guard members have been "activated for civil unrest" in 23 states and Washington, D.C.