Secretary Says He Does Not Support Invoking Insurrection Act
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 3, 2020)
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said he doesn't support invoking the Insurrection Act, which would allow active-duty service members to act as law enforcement in quelling unrest in American cities.

At a Pentagon news conference today, Esper said the National Guard is handling the situation on the streets and is the organization best-suited to assist local law enforcement.

Esper called the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis policemen a horrible crime. "The officers on the scene that day should be held accountable for his murder," he said. "It is a tragedy that we have seen repeat itself too many times."

The secretary said racism is real in the United States, and "we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it and to eradicate it."

In the past, the United States military has been asked to support governors and law enforcement to help maintain law and order so that other Americans can exercise their rights, free from violence against themselves or their property. For example, the 101st Airborne Division deployed to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 to protect integration efforts at Little Rock High School, and troopers from the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But the support usually comes from the National Guard, and thousands of guardsmen are deployed across the nation right now. "It is not something we seek to do, but it is our duty, and we do it with the utmost skill and professionalism," Esper said. "I'm very proud of the men and women of the National Guard who are out on the streets today performing this important task and, in many ways, at the risk of their own welfare."

"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," Esper, who once served in the National Guard, said. "We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act."

Esper praised the job National Guard service members have done over the past few months. "The National Guard … has gone from tackling natural disasters, such as floods, to combatting coronavirus across the country, to now dealing with civil unrest in support of law enforcement on the streets of America," he said. He noted that, at the same time, many thousands of guardsmen are also deployed overseas.

The U.S. military has often led the way in race relations, integrating African Americans into the ranks in 1948, for example. The nature of the military is to embrace diversity and inclusion, he said. "While we still have much to do on this front, leaders across DOD and the services take this responsibility seriously, and we are determined to make a difference," Esper said.

All members of the military have taken an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. That means defending the rights guaranteed in the First Amendment: freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly and to petition the government.

"The United States military is sworn to defend these and all other rights," he said. "And we encourage Americans at all times to exercise them peacefully. It is these rights and freedoms that make our country so special. And it is these rights and freedoms that American service members are willing to fight and die for."


Message to the Department - Support to Civil Authorities
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 3, 2020)

Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper released a message to the Department of Defense regarding its continued support to civil authorities, June 2.

In the memo, Esper said, the United States military has been the greatest force for good in our Nation's history.

While we often see the impact of our efforts overseas, every President has at times deployed military forces for domestic missions as well. In the last few months, for example, America's men and women in uniform - Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard - have worked day and night across our communities to confront the COVID-19 crisis. This historic mission was just the most recent example of our longstanding support to civilian authorities - from pandemics to hurricanes, and from wildfires to providing security after 9/11 .

Throughout these response efforts, I have been incredibly proud of our Service members and their hard work to assist our fellow Americans. This past week, our support to civil authority mission - that had been focused on COVID-19 - changed. Our National Guard are now also being called upon across the country to help protect our communities, businesses, monuments, and places of worship.

Department of Defense personnel have taken an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. I myself have taken it many times in my military and civilian careers, and believe strongly in it. As part of that oath, we commit to protecting the American people's right to freedom of speech and to peaceful assembly. I, like you, am steadfast in my belief that Americans who are frustrated, angry, and seeking to be heard must be ensured that opportunity. And like you, I am committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting life and liberty, so that the violent actions of a few do not undermine the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens.

I appreciate your professionalism and dedication to defending the Constitution for all Americans. Moreover, I am amazed by the countless remarkable accomplishments of the Department of Defense in today's trying times - from repatriating and sheltering Americans who were evacuated from a foreign land, to delivering food and medical supplies to communities in need, and to protecting our cities and communities. In every challenge, and across every mission, the U.S. military has remained ready, capable, and willing to serve.

As I reminded you in February, I ask that you remember at all times our commitment as a Department and as public servants to stay apolitical in these turbulent days. For well over two centuries, the U.S. military has earned the respect of the American people by being there to protect and serve all Americans. Through your steadfast dedication to the mission and our core.

The memo can be found here.


prev next

Press releases See all

Breaking News from AFP See all

Official reports See all