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A group of West Point alumni slam Trump administration's politicization of U.S. military ahead of graduation

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United States Military Academy at West Point Plebes march before family members during the Plebe Parent Parade at West Point, New York, March 7, 2020.

Matthew Moeller | U.S. Army photo

WEST POINT, N.Y. — In an extraordinary letter to the U.S. Military Academy’s graduating class, a coalition of several hundred West Point alumni slammed the Trump administration’s politicization of the military amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd.

The letter comes as President Donald Trump prepares to address the Army’s new second lieutenants at an in-person ceremony adapted with social-distancing measures aimed at preventing transmission of the coronavirus. Cadets left the academy on March 6 when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Only the 1,113 graduating seniors have returned to the academy in recent days to prepare for Saturday’s event, which is closed to guests.

“Sadly, the government has threatened to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests. Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events,” some alumni wrote in a letter posted on Medium.

“The oath taken by those who choose to serve in America’s military is aspirational. We pledge service to no monarch; no government; no political party; no tyrant,” the group wrote, adding that they were “concerned that fellow graduates serving in senior-level, public positions are failing to uphold their oath of office and their commitment to Duty, Honor, Country.”

The latest revelation comes as former national security leaders criticized Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a West Point graduate, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley’s handling of the civil unrest. 

“We ask you to join us in working to right the wrongs and to hold each other accountable to the ideals instilled by our alma mater and affirmed by each of us at graduation,” wrote the more than 500 alumni from six decades of graduating classes “who collectively served across ten presidential administrations.”

On Thursday, Milley, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer apologized for accompanying Trump to a photo opportunity at a Washington church after authorities violently moved protesters from an area outside the White House.

“I should not have been there,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a video commencement address to National Defense University. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

Following a June 1 Rose Garden speech, Trump posed with a Bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church after protesters were forcibly cleared from Lafayette Square across from the Executive Mansion.

Before the photo op, Trump stopped short of invoking the Insurrection Act but threatened to deploy active-duty U.S. military if states failed to quell demonstrations. He then walked out to St. John’s with Milley, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and other members of the Cabinet, including Attorney General William Barr.

Trump stood in front of the historic St. John’s Church holding a Bible and posed for photographs. He later motioned to members of his Cabinet to stand alongside him for more pictures.

A week ago, Esper publicly broke with Trump during a Pentagon press briefing by saying he did not support invoking the Insurrection Act — a law that would allow the president to use active-duty forces to respond to civil unrest stemming from protests against police brutality.

“I say this not only as secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard, 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 situations. We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said on June 3.

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

Hours later, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave a lukewarm endorsement of Esper when asked about the daylight between Trump and his Defense secretary.

McEnany responded by saying that Trump has the “sole authority” to move forward with the Insurrection Act. “If he chooses to use it he will do it,” she said of the measure.

“As of right now, Secretary Esper is still Secretary Esper, and should the president lose faith, we will all learn about that in the future,” McEnany added.

On the heels of Esper’s comments, Trump nearly fired the Pentagon chief, but was talked out of it, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing officials.

Trump consulted with several advisors about his intention to fire Esper, his fourth defense secretary, according to the report. The president decided not to immediately fire Esper after talking with confidants, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and James Inhofe, R., Okla.

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