President Trump’s June 2nd tweet was shocking, but, unfortunately, not surprising. In it he stated:
D.C. had no problems last night. Many arrests. Great job done by all. Overwhelming force. Domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great (thank you President Trump!).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 2, 2020
Leaving aside that he thanked himself in the third person in his own tweet, the advocacy for “domination” and “overwhelming force” on the heels of his toying with the idea of using, not only National Guard troops, but active duty military forces makes his tweet even more ominous.
“Domination” of the people is anathema to liberty, as is using “overwhelming force” to gain compliance. As a free people, Americans are not welcoming to force of any kind being applied to our lives. Just the thought of military convoys rolling through the cities of this country should send a chill down one’s spine. Those images don’t conjure up images of freedom; they conjure images of tyranny and dictatorship.
Of course, the military has been used to put down uprisings in the past. The most recent example is during the 1992 LA riots. But that doesn’t make the idea of the military being used in a law enforcement role any more appealing.
The most infamous use of the military to quell an uprising in recent memory is the Kent State shooting in 1970. In that case it was the Ohio National Guard who shot 13 unarmed Vietnam War protesters, killing 4, on the campus of Kent State University.
While the National Guard, when under the direction of the Governor of their state, has a valid law enforcement function, it doesn’t make the image of military personnel executing civilians any more palatable.
If we go all the way back to the beginning of our country, one of the pivotal points leading up to the American Revolution was the Boston Massacre, where British troops opened fire on a rowdy mob of colonists, killing 5, in March of 1770. That act of tyranny crystalized the revolutionary foment that was forming and has been cited by many as the turning point in galvanizing the independence movement. According to John Adams, the “foundation of American Independence was laid” on March 5, 1770.
The idea that the military shouldn’t be used against our own citizens has been implanted in the American DNA ever since the Boston Massacre.
We have codified that belief in the Posse Comitatus Act in the 19th century, which prohibits the use of the American military on US soil to enforce the laws against American citizens.
If President Trump wants to move ahead with this idea, the only way around the Posse Comitatus Act is to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. The Insurrection Act has only been used ten times in the last 100 years. Most of the time the act is invoked at the request of the Governor of the state where assistance is needed. It has only been invoked without a state request 5 times in its entire history.
So far, at least one Governor is resisting the military being sent to his state. Illinois Governor, Jay Pritzker, said on CNN “I reject the notion that the Federal Government can send troops into the State of Illinois.”
Additionally, some prominent former military members are speaking out against the use of military force. Retired General Tony Thomas, former Special Operations Commander under the Trump Administration said in a tweet: “Not what America needs to hear… ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure… ie a Civil War…”
Dave Lapan, a retired Marine Corps Colonel, former spokesman for the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs under President Obama, and the former spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump Administration said, of Trump putting General Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in charge of managing the unrest: “This is nuts… Beyond the idea that an active duty military officer would be ‘in charge of’ domestic law enforcement actions, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff commands no troops. He is the senior military advisor to the President and Secretary of Defense.”
On Monday, adding fuel to the already raging fire, Senator Tom Cotton tweeted “…let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they are facing off against the 101st Airborne Division.” Which he then doubled down on when questioned with another tweet: “And if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cal, 3rd Infantry—whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters.”
No quarter is a military term for take no prisoners. Let that sink in—a sitting United States Senator was calling for the summary execution of American citizens for the crime of looting. Of course, Cotton has since tried to downplay his tweet as hyperbole, and that people were taking the term out of context by applying a military definition to a tweet about the US military.
But as David French (himself an Army veteran and Harvard-trained lawyer) points out, “[Tom] Cotton graduated from Harvard Law School and served bravely and honorably downrange as an Army infantry officer. He knows ‘no quarter’ is a defined term in military ops, and that term is not defined by Webster’s.” French also points out in a follow-up tweet that the concept of “no quarter” has been deemed a war crime and outlawed even in times of insurrection since President Lincoln. He goes on to say any military member who follows a “no quarter” order would be committing murder.
The bottom line is this: Protests that devolve into looting, rioting, and violence are, obviously, a horrific outcome. It is taking away from the righteous outrage of peaceful protesters who are doing everything in their power to effect change. Progress may even finally be achievable. The murder of George Floyd may actually be a tipping point where the conversation about systemic racism and unequal treatment of people of color by law enforcement may have a chance to finally be heard. Any backsliding from this point will be a tremendous disappointment. So no one is in favor of the opportunists who are using peaceful protests as a platform for violence and looting.
However an overreaction by the government by dispatching active-duty military to police our cities only compounds the bad that the looting is doing; it doesn’t do any good. The federal government needs to leave policing to the states and to the localities where the problems are occurring. If needed, the National Guard, acting in their state militia roles, can step in to assist local law enforcement. That’s how the system was designed, and it has worked in nearly every case. Military convoys of storied fighting forces who are trained to return fire with superior skill and overwhelming force will only lead to the next American tragedy.