'Lay down your arms, uphold your oath': Former military leaders and lawmakers resoundingly blast Trump's idea of deploying US troops on American streets

By David Choi

President Donald Trump's urging of state leaders to deploy their National Guard assets to "dominate the streets" amid the nationwide protests caught the ire of congressional lawmakers with national security experience and retired senior military officials.

Trump on Monday explicitly urged governors to utilize their National Guard to end the "riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country," or else be faced with possibility of having federal US military forces deployed in their states.

Trump has floated the 213-year-old Insurrection Act, which allows him, through an executive order, to deploy US forces inside the country to suppress an insurrection and to facilitate the execution of existing laws. The Insurrection Act was last invoked during the Los Angeles riots in 1992, when riots and looting erupted in the wake of the acquittal of four police officers involved in the Rodney King beating.

"If the city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residence, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them," Trump said in a speech at the Rose Garden.

There have been amendments to expand the act following the urgent need for federal aid — after natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or to thwart potential terrorist attacks. The commander-in-chief does have the express authority to use federalized forces within US borders, but historical precedent has shown that state leaders have consented to such deployments. During the Los Angeles riots for instance, California Gov. Pete Wilson urged President George H.W. Bush for aid and to declare the county a national disaster area.

Some state officials have shunned Trump's suggestion and were even reluctant to activate their own National Guard forces in the state. Gov. Kate Brown activated 50 unarmed Oregon National Guardsmen on Monday as a "support function only" service to law enforcement operations "behind the scenes."

"Our goal, and the goal of the overwhelming number of protesters should be to reduce violence," Brown said Monday afternoon. "You don't defuse violence by putting soldiers on our streets. Having soldiers on the streets across America is exactly what President Trump wants. He's made that very clear on a call this morning."

Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Alex Wong/Getty

Military veterans in Congress and former senior defense officials have widely scrutinized Trump's idea of deploying federal troops. Meanwhile, a senior official on Tuesday also said the Pentagon would "like all of this to stay a National Guard response," according to Breaking Defense.

"America's military, our sons and daughters, will place themselves at risk to protect their fellow citizens," retired US Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Twitter. "Their job is unimaginably hard overseas; harder at home. Respect them, for they respect you. America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy."

Retired US Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was "sickened" by the presence of the National Guard outside St. John's Church during Trump's controversial photo session on Monday.

"I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform," Mullen wrote in an opinion column titled, "I Cannot Remain Silent." "They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops."

"Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act," Mullen wrote.

Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer who served multiple deployments to Iraq, said Trump "has made it clear that the fight for these Constitutional principles is a fight against himself."

"We must therefore, with every ounce of conviction, every commitment to peace, and every glimmer of hope, join in lawful protest to overcome his tyranny," Moulton said. "And if he chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do —to stifle dissent, suppress freedom, and cement inequality — then I call on all our proud young men and women in uniform, as a veteran and a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath, and join this new march for freedom."

"Be on the right side of history: the side of patriots, of our Constitution, of our flag, and of our freedom," he added.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a Purple Heart recipient and a retired US Army helicopter pilot, described Trump as a "five-time draft dodging coward who is more interested in looking like a leader than actually being one."

"We cannot allow any Commander in Chief to use our active-duty service members to silence our neighbors. To drive yet another wedge between Americans," Duckworth said in a statement.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that "the domestic deployment of our armed services is an incredibly serious undertaking that should not be taken lightly."

"I urge President Trump to reverse course and use the full weight of the presidency to calm tensions across the country, not escalate them," Smith added. "It simply doesn't have to be this way."

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, proposed an amendment in the next year's National Defense Authorization Act budget that would prevent military troops from responding to peaceful protests.

"The President is trying to turn the American military against American citizens who are peacefully protesting on domestic soil, which they have every right to do. I'm not going to stand for it," Kaine said in a statement. "

"I can tell you: this is not what the United States military is for," Kaine added. "I never thought we would have to use the NDAA to make clear that the US military shouldn't be used as an agent of force against American citizens who are lawfully assembling. I thought that would seem obvious to everyone."

Republican lawmakers have widely dodged Trump's suggestion of using federalized troops in their state and instead blamed the protesters who "engaged in violence."

"Now is the time for strong leadership," Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said to Fox News during an interview on Tuesday. "Rioting should not be tolerated. It cannot be allowed and we need strong leadership from the president, from the attorney general, from governors, from mayors, from police chiefs."

Meanwhile, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said his state did not require federal aid.

"We will not be asking the United States military to come into the state of Texas because we know that Texans can take care of Texans," he said during a press conference.