President Donald Trump has responded to days of protests against police brutality that have unfolded around the country by calling for more brutality against the protesters. He’s repeatedly threatened to send active-duty members of the military into the streets of the U.S. to confront the protesters, the vast majority of whom are entirely peaceful, but it’s unclear what if any legal authority actually exists under which the president could do so. He seems to have come up with the proposal without considering legal ramifications. This week, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) revealed a letter in which top General Mark Milley, who serves as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that soldiers would never obey an illegal order from the president.
Previously, Gallego — who is himself a veteran — had sent Milley a short letter in which he asked the blunt question of whether the general “[intends] to obey illegal orders from the president”. Milley has now responded, insisting that he would “absolutely not” obey an illegal order from Trump. In his response letter, the top general explained:
‘My bottom line response to the question in your June 1, 2020 letter is ‘absolutely not.’ I testified at my Senate confirmation hearing that any soldier, sailor, airman or marine, regardless of rank, including myself, will not obey an illegal order. I have personally abided by this standard since my commissioning 40 years ago — and I will not change now.’
American servicemembers must never obey an illegal order. Presidents should know not to issue them. pic.twitter.com/FEeJyLfPhX
— Ruben Gallego (@RepRubenGallego) June 8, 2020
For now, the issue seems to have temporarily become less acutely pressing, because Trump has temporarily backed off his threat to send troops into U.S. cities — although his team did already dispatch an array of law enforcement and military personnel into the streets of Washington, D.C. At one point, a National Guard helicopter even conducted a “show of force” targeting protesters in which the chopper flew barely 100 feet above the targeted individuals. The tactic is ordinarily used on battlefields.
The president has attracted widespread condemnation for his response to the protests in D.C. in particular, where peaceful protesters were recently attacked by cops shortly before Trump held a photo op at a nearby church. Retired General James Mattis, who served as a Defense Secretary in the Trump administration, characterized the president as a threat to the Constitution.
Check out Twitter’s response to Milley’s new letter below: