Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday he does not support invoking a law that would allow President Trump to use the U.S. military for domestic law enforcement amid nationwide protests surrounding the death of George Floyd.
Esper’s remarks represent a break with the president, who has threatened to deploy active-duty troops to quash protests if governors do not “dominate” the demonstrators.
“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations in support of local law enforcement,” Esper said at a news conference Wednesday.
“I say this not only as secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” he added. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Protests have spread nationwide since last week when Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody after an officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Some of the protests have turned violent or taken place amid looting.
As of Tuesday, governors in 28 states, as well as the District of Columbia, activated their National Guards to help with crowd control, with the National Guard Bureau saying Tuesday that 20,400 soldiers were responding to “civil unrest.”