Amid persistent fears that President Donald Trump could attempt to use his authority as commander in chief to involve American troops in potential disputes over the outcome of Tuesday's high-stakes presidential contest, more than 15,000 people have signed a new petition demanding that U.S. military leaders "refuse any order" to interfere with the election.
"You have a legal, constitutional, and moral responsibility to refuse to comply with any and all attempts by President Trump to interfere with the 2020 presidential election," reads the brief petition directed at Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
"As commander-in-chief at the top of the chain of command, he could make use of the military, not just the courts, to sabotage the vote counting and aim for what would amount to a coup."
—Norman Solomon, RootAction.org
Last month, as Common Dreams reported, Esper refused to definitively rule out deploying troops to polling places on Election Day, telling a pair of Democratic lawmakers who pressed him on the matter that the "U.S. military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law."
Organized by progressive advocacy group RootsAction.org and backed by prominent organizations—including Progressive Democrats of America, Demand Progress, and Veterans for Peace—the petition comes in the wake of Trump's repeated attacks on the legitimacy of the election and refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
"President Trump has made it clear that he will not accept losing the election," RootsAction national director Norman Solomon said in a statement. "As commander-in-chief at the top of the chain of command, he could make use of the military, not just the courts, to sabotage the vote counting and aim for what would amount to a coup."
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Noting that the president "is already encouraging violence by his supporters," RootsAction co-founder Jeff Cohen said the American public "very much needs media outlets and prominent officials, including the Secretary of Defense, to state clearly that the president's use of the military to interfere in the election will not be tolerated."
The question of which side the military will be on should Trump refuse to accept the election results has been a topic of serious conversation for weeks in the face of the president's authoritarian rhetoric and behavior in the lead-up to the November 3 contest.
In a Fox News appearance in September, Trump—who over the summer sent National Guard troops to confront racial justice demonstrators—indicated he would be willing to mobilize troops to quash election-related unrest in the streets.
"Look, it's called insurrection," the president said. "We just send them in and we do it very easy."
The Atlantic's Barton Gellman warned Monday that ordering the military to intervene in the election is one of several ways Trump "could attempt a coup." Calling such a scenario "not likely" but "not impossible either," Gellman noted that the president would run up against numerous legal and practical barriers to the deployment of troops for his political benefit, including opposition from Pentagon brass.
"Biden's team has emergency legal papers prepared, but a senior adviser said flatly that 'there is no way that he's going to persuade the Pentagon to send troops,'" Gellman reported. "There is a caveat here, even so, the adviser acknowledged. It is also a serious crime, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to disobey a lawful order. Disobedience flies in the face of a lifetime's training for a man or woman in uniform. Anyone who defies the commander in chief had better be sure."