The AFL-CIO's Union Veterans Council has publicly called for the resignation of both U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley for their participation in Monday night's violent clearing of peaceful protesters outside the White House in Lafayette Park so that President Donald Trump could later stroll to nearby St. John's Church for a photo-op.
Will Attig, executive director of the UVC, an affiliate organization which seeks to represent working-class veterans within the labor movement, said in a statement Wednesday that the actions of Esper and Milley "have jeopardized the American public trust, confidence, and respect for the brave men and women who volunteer" in the nation's military.
"Simply put," Attig continued, "our military is not a prop for photo-ops and political statements. This spectacle to deploy our troops created an unsafe environment and became an abuse of power."
As congressional lawmakers have demanded a detailed investigation into who gave the order to clear the peaceful protest, and under what authority, condemnation for the administration's use of force against nonviolent demonstrators expressing constitutionally-protected free speech has come from across the political spectrum.
In a rebuke that made headlines overnight, Trump's former Defense Secretary Jim 'Mad Dog' Mattis—chastized by progressives as nothing less than a "war criminal" himself for his military exploits overseas—said that what transpired under Trump's authority in Lafayette Park was an "abuse of executive authority" which made a "mockery of" the U.S. Constitution.
We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of American democracy, but there is still a way to stop the descent. In @ForeignPolicy, Brookings President John R. Allen responds to Trump's threats to deploy the military against American citizens: https://t.co/l4eRweEmq6— Union Veterans Council (@unionveterans) June 4, 2020
While Esper on Wednesday said he did not support Trump's threat to invoke the Insurrection Act to deploy U.S. soldiers in cities nationwide and claimed he was unaware beforehand of plans to stage the photo-op in which he participated alongside the president, Attig said such attempted apologies were simply too little and too late. "Every service member has the duty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 90 to not follow unlawful orders and the obligation not to be complacent," he said. "We are calling on them to resign not as a point of shame, but as an example of leadership."
The UVC called on the Pentagon to publicly release new clarity on the rules of engagement for active duty U.S. military personnel deployed in the nation's capitol city—where Trump has some authority to do so—even as the group made clear its opposition to deploying any soldiers in the first place.
"President Trump has set a violent and misguided tone in the wake of George Floyd's tragic murder," Attig said. "It is time for our leaders at every level to challenge and repudiate this dangerous rhetoric—and for those at the top of our military, who failed in this responsibility, to step down."