WASHINGTON – As the wave of protests over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota entered its sixth day, U.S. President Donald Trump is facing a new source of strong criticism ‒ this time from former senior military commanders, most prominent among them his own former Secretary of Defense, retired General James Mattis.
In a statement first published by Atlantic Magazine, Mattis accused Trump of actively trying to sow division among Americans. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people ‒ does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis explained.
Before the U.S. invasion of Normandy, Mattis noted, American soldiers were reminded that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.’” Mattis said that Americans must now "summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics."
“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort,” Mattis wrote, referring to the current wave of protests, riots and police violence. He added that “We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership."
The former marine general was Trump’s secretary of defense from 2017 until late 2018, when he resigned over Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. military forces from Syria and abandon America’s Kurdish allies.
With regards to the demands given by the protesters in the streets for an end to the violence and discrimination directed by police forces towards African American citizens, Mattis wrote: “It is a wholesome and unifying demand ‒ one that all of us should be able to get behind.”
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Mattis also criticized the use of the military on Monday to attack protesters in front of the White House. “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the constitution,” he stated. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens.”
A day before Mattis’ criticism, another former senior general, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, also came out against the president.
“It sickened me yesterday to see security personnel ‒ including members of the National Guard ‒ forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church,” Mullen wrote in the Atlantic article.
“I have to date been reticent to speak out on issues surrounding President Trump’s leadership, but we are at an inflection point, and the events of the past few weeks have made it impossible to remain silent,” he added.
Mullen added that “whatever Trump’s goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces. There was little good in the stunt.”
Thousands of demonstrators once again filled the streets of Washington, D.C., on Wednesday evening, in what became the largest protest that the city has seen since the beginning of the national unrest.
The city’s curfew time for Wednesday was moved from 7:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. by Mayor Muriel Bowser, giving more time for the demonstrators to stay on the streets. The largest concentration of protesters was in front of the White House, as om previous days, but there were also significant crowds in front of the Trump International Hotel and on Capitol Hill.
The protest outside the Trump Hotel numbered close to 1,000 people, who gathered in the sun in the early afternoon hours, despite the hot and humid weather. They blocked all traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue ‒ one of the city's most important thoroughfares ‒ and ‘took a knee’ all at once, while shouting “black lives matter.”
In another protest near the White House, demonstrators laid on the ground, once again blocking traffic on a main road, and people shouted “I can’t breath”, referring to the words that George Floyd is heard saying in the gruesome video documenting his abuse at the hands of the Minneapolis police department.
Over on Capitol Hill, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ‒ wearing a face mask ‒ came out to speak to the protesters and expressed her support for the demonstration. Pelosi criticized President Donald Trump for the event on Monday evening in which the military and the police used tear gas to disperse a non-violent demonstration across from the White House, simply in order to arrange a “photo opportunity” for Trump at a nearby church.
Pelosi is not the only senior Democratic politician to join the protests: Earlier this week, both Senators Kamala Harris from California and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts took part in the demonstrations.
The police in Washington were relatively less aggressive toward the demonstrators on Wednesday, continuing a trend that began on Tuesday of relaxing, to some degree, its response to the protests.
Throughout the day, thousands of soldiers could be seen throughout the city, especially around important government buildings, as well as on the National Mall, next to Washington’s most iconic historical landmarks, such as the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Memorials.
The heavy military presence, however, likely won’t become the "new normal" for the city: The army has already been preparing, according to several local news reports, to begin sending soldiers who were stationed in D.C. back to their home bases. It’s not clear when exactly those soldiers will be sent back, though, and the final decision will have to be made by the White House.
As of 9:00 P.M. Washington time, two hours before the curfew began, the demonstrations were peaceful and there were no significant violent events or clashes in the city. In front of the White House, the demonstrators didn’t attempt to break through the line erected by the police marking the end of the area where demonstrators were permitted to protest. Instead, they used loudspeakers to blast music.