Former President Trump complained that US military generals were not “loyal” like Nazis, in a series of erratic outbursts that nearly prompted Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley to resign.
A week after the June 2020 riots, in which Milley, an Army general, came under fire for marching with Trump in uniform to St. John’s Church – before breaking away when he realized the inappropriateness of his own presence – the authored Chairman his letter of resignation , but not sent.
The resignation would have been a highly unusual move given that the nation’s military posts serve before any political party. After taking advice from across the political and military spheres, Milley decided not to send the damning resignation letter.
“The events of the last few weeks have caused me to look deeply to my soul and I can no longer faithfully support and carry out your orders as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Milley wrote in the letter, according to a new book. “I am convinced that you have caused great and irreparable damage to my country.”
Milley chats with former President Trump after he announced the State of the Union in February 2020
Milley was criticized for marching with Trump in combat fatigues to a photo op at St Joseph’s Church during the 2020 police brutality protests
The details were provided in a forthcoming book, The Divider: Trump in The White House, by New York Times author Peter Baker and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker. Excerpts of the book were published in The New Yorker.
Dressed in combat fatigues, Milley had originally marched with Trump and a cadre of officers toward St. John’s, the Episcopal church across from the White House that had been vandalized during protests over police brutality following George Floyd’s death. Milley broke away from the crew before they reached the church and climbed into the black Chevy Suburban that was waiting for him.
The writers wrote that Milley felt his brief appearance was a “misjudgment that would haunt him forever, a ‘road-to-Damascus moment,’ as he later put it.”
There, Trump posed with a Bible in front — a photo op meant to show vigorous opposition to the protests that are ravaging the country.
“They’re using the military to create fear in people’s minds — and we’re trying to protect the American people,” Milley said. “I cannot stand by and participate, verbally or otherwise, in this attack on the American people.”
Hours before the photo op, Trump had feuded with Milley, Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper over demands that the US military be called in to quell protests – Trump wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to introduce strike forces against Americans.
Trump holds a Bible in front of St. John’s on June 1, 2020. The photo op was meant to show strength against the protests against racial injustice that are ravaging the country
“We look weak,” Trump said. He urged Milley to take command, but Milley and others resisted, arguing the National Guard would suffice.
“You are all losers! You’re all fucking losers!’ Trump yelled at Milley and the others.
He then asked Milley why the military couldn’t shoot at protesters. “Can’t you just shoot her? Just shoot in the legs or something?’
The comments echoed similar sentiments Trump had expressed to his then chief of staff, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly. “You damn generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?”
“What generals?” Kelly asked.
“The German generals in World War II,” Trump replied.
“You know that you tried to kill Hitler three times and almost succeeded?” said Kelly.
“No, no, no, they were absolutely loyal to him,” Trump insisted.
Milley, who largely refrained from criticizing Trump during his tenure, appears to be attempting to smooth his reputation by distancing himself from the previous administration he served and collaborating with the book’s authors.
He now continues to serve in the same role under President Biden.
Milley then hinted in his resignation letter that he believed Trump had bigoted beliefs and fascist tendencies.
“I swore an oath to the United States Constitution, and embodied in that Constitution is the idea that all men and women are created equal. All men and women are created equal no matter who you are, whether you are white or black, Asian, Indian, no matter what skin color you are, whether you are gay, straight or anything in between. It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish or choose not to believe,” Milley wrote in the undelivered letter.
“It’s obvious to me that you don’t care about these values and the cause I serve.”
“Finally, I firmly believe that you are ruining the international order and inflicting significant damage to our overseas country, which the Greatest Generation, who instituted it in 1945, fought so hard to bring about. Between 1914 and 1945 150 million people were murdered in warfare. They were slaughtered for tyrannies and dictatorships,” he wrote.
“This generation, like every generation, fought against it, fought against fascism, fought against Nazism, fought against extremism. Now I realize that you do not understand this world order. You don’t understand what the war was about. In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we have fought against. And I can’t be part of that. It is with deep regret that I hereby submit my letter of resignation.’
After consulting other political and military insiders, Milley decided not to resign. “Fuck that s***,” he said to his associates, according to the book. ‘I’ll just fight him.’
Instead, he offered a public apology for performing at a National Defense University graduation a week after the photo op with Trump.
“I shouldn’t have been there,” he said in the address, without mentioning Trump. “My presence in this moment and in this setting created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” It was, he added, “a mistake I learned from.”
“If they want to court-martial me or put me in jail, do it,” Milley told his staff. “But I will fight from within.”
Milley put away the letter of resignation and outlined four goals to resist Trump from within: 1) ensure the President doesn’t drag the US into unnecessary wars overseas, 2) ensure Trump doesn’t use the military on American streets to get himself in power 3) upholding the integrity of the military; and 4) upholding its own integrity.
Then, after Joe Biden’s election was called, Milley and Trump’s other defense officials feared that Trump would try to use the military to stay in power.
Former Sec. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, up until then Trump’s most staunch defender, even called Milley and asked if he could visit his home. “The crazies took over,” Pompeo told Milley.
Trump then fired Defense Sec. Mark Esper and Milley wanted to resign again in protest. “You can’t,” Esper insisted. ‘You’re the only one left.’
Milley agreed, instead stepping up efforts to ensure Trump would not attempt to usurp democracy and use the military to protect his power. Over the coming weeks, Milley routinely convened the Joint Chiefs to ensure they resolutely opposed any plan to keep Trump in power.