After he was seen walking dressed in combat fatigues behind then-President Donald Trump across Lafayette Square after it had been forcibly cleared of Black Lives Matter protesters in June 1, 2020, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, drafted a resignation letter to inform Trump that he intended to step down.
The letter was published by the New Yorker on Monday in an excerpt of an upcoming book by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, “The Divider: Trump in the White House.”
“The events of the last couple weeks have caused me to do deep soul-searching,” Milley wrote, “and I can no longer faithfully support and execute your orders as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is my belief that you were doing great and irreparable harm to my country. I believe that you have made a concerted effort over time to politicize the United States military. I thought that I could change that. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot, and I need to step aside and let someone else try to do that.”
Milley was widely criticized for participating in what critics saw as a staged photo op. Hours before their march across Lafayette Square, Trump had clashed with Milley, Attorney General William Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who objected to his demands for a militarized show of force to quell the protesters.
“You are all losers! You are all f***ing losers!” Trump said, according to the book. “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” (Esper later recalled the discussion in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes.”)
In his letter, Milley told Trump, “You are using the military to create fear in the minds of the people — and we are trying to protect the American people.”
“I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people,” Milley wrote. “The American people trust their military and they trust us to protect them against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and our military will do just that. We will not turn our back on the American people.”
Milley said he swore an oath to the Constitution 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 the color of your skin, no matter if you’re gay, straight or something in between,” he wrote. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or choose not to believe. None of that matters. It doesn’t matter what country you came from, what your last name is — what matters is we’re Americans. We’re all Americans. That under these colors of red, white, and blue — the colors that my parents fought for in World War I — means something around the world. It’s obvious to me that you don’t think of those colors the same way I do. It’s obvious to me that you don’t hold those values dear and the cause that I serve.”
Milley added: “[I]t is my deeply held belief that you’re ruining the international order, and causing significant damage to our country overseas” by kowtowing to the kinds of “fascism” and “extremism” that America fought against in World War II.
“You don’t understand what the war was all about,” Milley concluded. “In fact, you subscribe to many of the principles that we fought against. And I cannot be a party to that. It is with deep regret that I hereby submit my letter of resignation.”
But Milley never submitted his letter.
After consulting with current and former national security officials, including former Secretary of Defense and CIA chief Robert Gates, he decided to stay on, later telling his staff that he would instead “just fight [Trump] from the inside.”
Milley also issued a public apology for the Lafayette Square episode.
“I should not have been there,” he said in a commencement address at the National Defense University on June 11 — 10 days after the incident. “My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
He did not mention Trump.