US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday he was against using active duty troops to quell the protests for racial justice gripping the United States — breaking with President Donald Trump’s recent threat to deploy the military to restore order.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators had defied night-time curfews in several US cities going into a ninth day of unrest to voice anger over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed, handcuffed black man killed by a white police officer last week in Minnesota.
But the demonstrations were largely peaceful and while there were tense standoffs with law enforcement the protests did not feature the looting or clashes with police of previous days.
Trump has raised the possibility of invoking the rarely used Insurrection Act to deploy active duty soldiers against protesters but his Pentagon chief came out firmly against the move on Wednesday.
“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 briefing.
“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 said. “We are not in one of those situations now.
“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”