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June 2, 2020 – The protestors demanding justice in the wake of George Floyd’s killing are confronting what is uniquely American. Our history of institutionalized racism, systemic injustice, and the struggle to right these wrongs are hallmarks of our founding, America’s coming of age, and our society today. There is nothing more American than the belief that we can achieve a “more perfect union” by exercising the rights enshrined in the Constitution and by demanding that all of those rights be afforded to all Americans.

At the same time, the fundamentally American effort to do just that is meeting authoritarian headwinds. Among them is a President unable to speak for—or even to—the American people, as he urges forceful crackdowns and threatens to deploy the military to “dominate” America’s streets; a Defense Secretary who refers to America’s streets as a “battlespace,” and a broader administration that demands that peaceful protestors be met with violence in the shadow of the White House, while denigrating those exercising their First Amendment rights as agitators and even domestic terrorists.  

In response, many who have dedicated their careers to defending the United States and our values have joined in solidarity with the Black communities that have long led the profoundly American tradition of standing up and speaking out.

Military and Veteran Voices

Rep. Anthony Brown, Congressman from Maryland’s fourth district and retired Army Reserves colonel: Our communities are not “battlespaces.” This is not war. This is not the climate for military rhetoric. We must listen to the pain of our fellow Americans, support their right to speak out and protest and act to deliver the social justice and progress they demand and deserve. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard: “I believe that we in America should not get used to or accept uniformed service members of any variety having to be put in a position where they are having to secure people inside the United States of America,” [CNN, 6/2/20]

Common DefenseTwitter Statement: “This isn’t a “battle space” to “dominate,” these are our homes, our neighborhoods, our streets. The US military must stand down. #VetsAgainstTrump #BlackLivesMatter” [Twitter, 6/1/2020]

Rep. Jason Crow, Congressman from Colorado’s sixth district and former Army RangerLet us be clear about what happened today. @realDonaldTrump threatened to send the military to “dominate” protestors, his advisors referred to our streets as the “battlespace,” and he ordered the military to use force on peaceful demonstrators so he could stage a photo op. I saw real battlefields in Iraq & Afghanistan. I saw what happens when the military is used against protesters. I’ve never wanted to see either here. These are not the actions of a rationale, fit, democratic president. They are the actions of a man who doesn’t respect our values. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Gen. Martin Dempsey, 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: America’s military, our sons and daughters, will place themselves at risk to protect their fellow citizens. 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. #BeBetter [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Adm. Mike Franken: The military is a tool of last resort to defend our nation. It’s not a weapon to use against our citizens or our states. It is certainly not a tool for political expediency or ego-inflation. [Tweet, 6/2/20]

Rep. Ruben Gallego, Congressman from Arizona’s seventh district and Marine Corps veteranThe military should not be used against the American people. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Gen. Michael Hayden, former CIA and NSA Director: I was appalled to see [Commander of Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley] in his battle dress. Milley (he’s a general?!?) should not have walked over to the church with Trump. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Gen. Mark Hertling: “Dominating the battle space,” while destroying our democratic values. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, former SOUTHCOM CommanderThe murder of George Floyd by a police officer was the spark that detonated the anger at injustice. Using military forces other than Nat Guard would be inflammatory. [Tweet, 6/1/20] 

Gen. Barry McCaffrey: Trump. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He is disgraceful. A vigilante. A shameful person. [Tweet, 5/29/20]

Rep. Seth Moulton, Congressman from Massachusetts’ sixth district and Marine Corps veteran: And if [Donald Trump] chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do—to stifle dissent, suppress freedom, & cement inequality—then I call on all our proud young men & women in uniform, as a veteran & a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath, & join this new march for freedom. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Rep. Mikie Sherrill, Congresswoman from New Jersey’s eleventh district, former Navy pilot: The very notion of using our military to quell peaceful protests, a linchpin of our democracy, offends me. When I entered the military, I didn’t take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution to then turn around and use rubber bullets and tear gas on peaceful protestors. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Adm. James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied NATO Commander: American tradition says the use of active duty military to quell domestic disputes should be the absolute last resort and done at the request of not over the objection of governors.  I agree with that — this is a role for the National Guard not active duty. [Tweet, 6/2/20]

Gen. Tony Thomas, former SOCOM Commander: The “battle space” of America???  Not what America needs to hear…ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure…ie a Civil War… [Tweet, 6/1/20]

VoteVetsStatement of VoteVets on Calls for Military Response to Protests: “Today, the president of the United States told governors he wished he had an ‘occupying force’ he could send into Minneapolis.  His Secretary of Defense described protests as a ‘battlespace’ that had to be dominated… So, when planning operations, we plan for that loss of innocent life, and accept it as part of the horrible cost of war. So, to the war fetishists in the administration and in the US Congress, we ask one simple question. If protests on our streets are a war that requires a military response, then what level of collateral can be expected?  Before mobilizing our military to illegally fight this “war,” how many innocent American lives would be an acceptable level of collateral? If the answer to that question is zero, then we’d suggest you stop comparing this situation to a war, and start acting like responsible leaders. That is if you’re even capable of that.” [VoteVets, 6/1/2020]

Human Rights and Foreign Policy Experts

Bishop Garrison and Jon Wolfsthal: The United States faces a historic moment that provides an opportunity for the national security community to both discuss and act on the issues of race and extremism—and how they affect our security, diplomatic relationships, and credibility abroad. The racism that threatens lives and security will not magically vanish. It will not draw back or resolve itself. It must be cut out like the cancer it has been for so long. The national security community can strengthen the nation of which it is a part by being not just an ally of those who want change, but also an active participant in this dialogue and effort. The battles for the security and moral authority of the United States are intrinsically linked. If our community fails to step up to this challenge, our service and the efforts by all of us will fall far short of our collective goals. [Foreign Policy, 6/2/20]

Human Rights FirstHuman Rights First Opposes Deploying U.S. Military in American Communities: As a human rights organization that has challenged governments in other countries that have called on their militaries to intimidate and suppress their citizens, Human Rights First steadfastly opposes the decision by President Trump to deploy the American military here in the United States. [Human Rights First, 6/1/20]

Human Rights FirstBlack Lives Matter, Police Violence is a Human Rights Abuse: When the President of the United States says, “I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve” a domestic issue, it threatens to cross a bright line that has helped define America as a democracy for more than 200 years. [Human Rights First, 6/1/20]

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch: Twitter calls out Trump for threatening violence, shielding his tweet with a warning. As Trump should know, looting is a crime that merits arrest and prosecution, not a grounds for summary execution. … Utterly irresponsible. Now Trump uses the official White House Twitter account to reissue his call for summary executions which Twitter had shielded on his personal account. [Tweets, 5/29/20]

Brett McGurk, Former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISILIf a foreign leader ordered an assault like this on peaceful demonstrators and journalists so the leader could go for a walk the US would express grave concern. Law and order? Opposite of both. It’s unAmerican. [Tweet, 6/1/20]

Bret McGurk: So Trump will speak later today about CHINA! He’ll pretend to act tough. It’s a joke. Authoritarian leaders like Xi cannot believe their windfall: a U.S. president that shreds our values and alliances, the two unique sources of American power they truly fear. 1/3 As Trump provides cover to “shoot” American citizens, recall what he said about protestors in #HongKong last year as they bravely stood up for their freedoms. He parroted PRECISELY the language of President Xi and Chinese Communist Party leaders. 2/3 bloomberg.com/news/articles/…We derive much of our strength and influence abroad from striving to live up to our example here at home, what George Kennan called “the point at which domestic and foreign policies meet.” Trump is emptying this unique reservoir of American power, to Xi and Putin’s delight. 3/3 [Tweets, 5/29/20]

Adam Mount: Tonight, the president threatened to order the U.S. military to commit murder in Minneapolis. Tomorrow, he is set to deliver a speech condemning China, which is now engaged in rampant police brutality against Hong Kong protesters. [Tweet, 5/29/20]

Sarah Margon: For years when I would meet w foreign diplos while @hrw the first Q I inevitably got was almost always abt something domestic – maybe GTMO or the CIA’s torture program but also police abuse. My efforts were taken more seriously if they knew we pushed the US too. [Tweet, 5/29/20]

Foreign Policy Organizations

Diversity in National Security: Diversity in National Security Network Statement on Anti-Black Racism and the Killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, & Sean Reed: “Racism is inarguably a national security issue. We will continue to see it weaponized by domestic and foreign actors if we do not do the work to heal. We stand at the threshold of an opportunity for change. The conscience of this nation must be awakened and the hypocrisy exposed, a call to action dating back to Frederick Douglas. Equally important is the fact that the United States cannot be a global leader advocating ideals like democracy and human rights, if it does not practice what it preaches domestically. This is the moment, this is the time! We can never live up to our true potential as a nation until this country is safe for every race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. This is the work we must all do TODAY. This is work we will continue to do. This is the work we must demand from our leaders NOW.” [Diversity in National Security, [5/31/20]

Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security: WCAPS Statement on the Killing of George FloydActs of discrimination against Black people and people of color will never make this country great. All forms of supremacy must be opposed, making room for the vision of a country that can regain its status as a world leader in both equity and justice. We have a long way to go, and it is entirely too long overdue. Still, the clarity and visibility of intolerance and its impact brings forth an opportunity for the masses to oppose oppression on all fronts and in all its ugly forms. [WCAPS, 5/30/20]

America’s Allies

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne: “We have asked the Australian embassy in Washington D.C. to investigate this incident. I want to get further advice on how we would go about registering Australia’s strong concerns with the responsible local authorities in Washington. This is obviously a very troubling period in the United States and a tough period at so many levels. We are always supportive of people’s right to peaceful protest. […] [I]t’s appropriate in an environment such as this, where an event of this nature has occurred, that we are able to seek advice to investigate the incident. That is, it’s a very serious matter, and we take it that way.” [ABC Radio, 6/2/20].

EU Minister for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell: “We, here in Europe, like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd. And I think that all societies must remain vigilant against the excess use of force and ensure that all such incidents are addressed safely, effectively, and in full respect of the rule of law and human rights. We have to be sure everywhere — especially in societies which are based on the rule of law, democratic representation, and respect for freedoms and liberties — that people who are in charge of taking care of the order, are not using their capacities on the way that has been use on this very, very unhappy death of George Floyd. This is an abuse of power and this has to be denounced, has to be combatted in the States and everywhere. We support the right to peaceful protest and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind.” [Tweet, 6/2/20]

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas: ““The peaceful protests that we see in the U.S., involving many moving gestures, including by American police officers, are understandable and more than legitimate. […] I can only express the hope that the peaceful protests don’t turn violent, and even more the hope that they will have an impact.”

“Journalists must be able to do their job, that of carrying out independent reporting, in safety. Democratic states governed by the rule of law must apply the highest standards in protecting press freedom.” [Reuters, 6/2/2020]

James Slack, Spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson: “The violence we have seen in the U.S. over recent days is clearly very alarming. People must be allowed to protest peacefully. As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, the footage of George Floyd’s death is deeply distressing and our thoughts are with all those who have been affected.” 

The arrest and reported injuring of journalists is “very concerning.” “Journalists all around the world must be free to do their job and to hold authority to account without fear of arrest or violence.” [CBS, 6/2/20]

We are former senior officials and policy experts, academics and civil society leaders who have seen first-hand how the United States is stronger, safer and more respected in the world when we stand strong with our allies, pursue principled diplomacy, and stay true to the values that have long defined America at home and abroad. www.nationalsecurityaction.org