"Are they supposed to stab protesters?"
That was Rep. Ted Lieu's (D-Calif.) response Thursday to a letter by the highest-ranking military officer in the United States confirming that bayonets were issued to some of the troops deployed to the nation's capital last month as part of the Trump administration's effort to crack down on demonstrators protesting the police killing of George Floyd.
"It is difficult for us to imagine a circumstance which could necessitate or justify the deployment of bayonets against American civilians."
—Reps. Ted Lieu and Raja KrishnamoorthiFaced with questions from Lieu and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley admitted that members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina and the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment were given bayonets for their June 2 deployment to Washington, D.C.
The solidiers were told that the weapons could not enter the capital "without clear orders and only after nonlethal options were first reviewed," according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of Milley's letter.
Krishnamoorthi and Lieu thanked Milley for his response but voiced concern over the general's refusal to commit to banning the potentially deadly practice in the future.
"It is difficult for us to imagine a circumstance which could necessitate or justify the deployment of bayonets against American civilians," the Democratic lawmakers said in a statement.
It is insane to issue bayonets to soldiers for crowd control. Are they supposed to stab protestors? Americans are not the enemy. @CongressmanRaja & I are demanding @DeptofDefense & @thejointstaff to commit to never do this again in the future. https://t.co/PVF95hbrsC
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— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) July 2, 2020
This is horrendous. https://t.co/D94EQpNizZ
— Public Citizen (@Public_Citizen) July 3, 2020
In a letter (pdf) to Milley last month, Krishnamoorthi and Lieu demanded answers following a June 2 AP report which noted that soldiers deployed to D.C. in response to mass demonstrations "are armed and have riot gear as well as bayonets."
"The prospect of troops deployed with bayonets in response to demonstrations, regardless of anyone's intentions, raises the alarming specter of past demonstrations that have escalated and left unarmed protesters wounded," the lawmakers wrote. "While the tragic events in 1970 at Kent State University are most remembered for four students killed by National Guardsmen, the escalation and violence leading up to and following those killings included those same troops meeting peaceful demonstrators with bayonets and leaving several wounded."
"Less than a week later at University of New Mexico," Krishnamoorthi and Lieu continued, "demonstrations in response to Kent State escalated after protesters were met with Guardsmen who no longer carried live ammunition but instead wounded 11 people with bayonets, including a bystander and a local news photographer."