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Esper says he doesn’t support using active duty troops to quell civil unrest

U.S. Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to the press during a press conference at the Pentagon Briefing Room in Washington, D.C., Jan. 7, 2020. (DoD photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Nicole Mejia)
June 03, 2020

Defense Secretary Mark Esper held a press conference Wednesday morning addressing the use of troops to control civil unrest and clarifying that he does not support the Insurrection Act.

“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said.

“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” he added.

Esper’s declaration contradicts President Donald Trump’s remarks at a press conference on Monday evening in which he threatened to deploy the U.S. military to control civil unrest if state and local leaders could not get a handle on the riots.

“If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them,” Trump said on Monday, hinting at invoking the Insurrection Act.

The Insurrection Act gives the president the authority to activate federal troops for domestic law enforcement missions under certain circumstances, such as suppressing public unrest, repelling invasions, and supporting civilian law enforcement.

Esper, however, said he believes the National Guard is best suited for those efforts.

“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.

The Insurrection Act was last invoked during the Los Angeles riots in 1992 after the acquittal of four white police officers in the beating of black citizen Rodney King.

This article has been updated to correct the details of the 1992 Rodney King incident.