Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis slammed President Trump for his handling to the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, saying in a fiery statement his former boss wants “to divide” the American people.
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try,” he wrote. “Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis writes in a statement to The Atlantic. “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
He went on urging Americans to “unite without him.”
“We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society,” he continued. “This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
The former general also offered a full-throated endorsement of the demonstrations that have unfolded across the nation, saying the protesters are “rightly demanding” equal justice under the law and we all should get behind.
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis said. “The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand— one that all of us should be able to get behind.”
He added, “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.”
In his statement, Mattis condemned the White House’s decision to clear away protesters in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Park on Monday before Trump’s visit to the historic St. John’s Church, accuses Trump of ordering the U.S. military to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens.
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago,” Mattis said. “I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. 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—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”
He also rebuked his successor, Defense Secretary Mark Esper for his comments he made earlier this week for urging state governors “to dominate the battle space” when dealing with nationwide protests. Mattis said we should “reject any thinking” of Esper remarks that reference U.S cities as “battlespace” to be “dominate” by our military.
“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors,” Mattis said. “Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.”
President Trump responded to his former Pentagon Chief’s harsh critique, tweeting that he was honored to have fired “the world’s most overrated General.”
“Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General,” Trump tweeted Wednesday night. “I asked for his letter of resignation, & felt great about. His nickname was “Chaos”, which I didn’t like, & changed it to “Mad Dog.” His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom “brought home the bacon”. I didn’t like his “leadership” style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”
Mattis served as Trump’s Defense Secretary before resigning in 2018 after clashing with the president over the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The retired General has kept a low profile since retiring and declined to speak out against Trump, saying he owed the nation public silence while his former boss remained in office.