Former President Trump complained that U.S. military generals were not ‘loyal’ like Nazis in one of a series of erratic outbursts that almost caused Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to resign.
One week after the riots of June 2020, where Milley, an Army General, came under fire for marching with Trump in uniform toward St. John’s Church – before peeling off as he realized the impropriety of his own presence – the chairman drafted his resignation letter, but did not send it.
Resigning would have been a highly unusual move, as those in military posts serve the nation before any political party. After seeking counsel from those across the political and military sphere, Milley decided not to send the damning resignation letter.
‘The events of the last couple weeks have caused me to do deep soul-searching, and I can no longer faithfully support and execute your orders as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,’ Milley wrote in the letter, according to a new book. ‘It is my belief that you were doing great and irreparable harm to my country.’
Milley chats with former President Trump after he delivered the State of the Union in February 2020
Milley took criticism for marching with Trump in combat fatigues toward a photo op at St. Joseph’s Church during the police brutality protests of 2020
The details were provided in a forthcoming book,’The Divider: Trump in The White House’ from New York Times writer Peter Baker and The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser. Excerpts of the book were published in The New Yorker.
Dressed in combat fatigues, Milley had originally marched with Trump and a cadre of officials toward St. John’s, the Episcopal church across from the White House that had been vandalized during police brutality protests after George Floyd’s death. Milley peeled off from the crew before they reached the church and got into the black Chevy Suburban that was waiting for him.
The authors wrote that Milley thought his brief appearance a ‘misjudgment that would haunt him forever, a “road-to-Damascus moment,” as he would later put it.’
There, Trump posed with a Bible out front – a photo op that was meant to display forceful opposition to the protests ravaging the country.
‘You are using the military to create fear in the minds of the people—and we are trying to protect the American people,’ Milley said. ‘I cannot stand idly by and participate in that attack, verbally or otherwise, on the American people.’
Hours before the photo op, Trump had sparred with Milley, Attorney General William Barr, and the Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, over demands to bring in the U.S. military to quell protests – Trump wanted to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 a to bring in active-duty troops to be used against Americans.
Trump holds a Bible in front of St. John’s on June 1, 2020. The photo op was meant to project strength against the racial injustice protests ravaging the country
‘We look weak,’ Trump said. He demanded that Milley take charge, but Milley and others resisted, arguing the National Guard would be sufficient.
‘You are all losers! You are all fucking losers!’ Trump shouted at Milley and the others.
He then asked Milley why the military couldn’t shoot protesters. ‘Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?’
The remarks echoed similar sentiment Trump had expressed to his then-chief of staff retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly. ‘You fucking generals, why can’t you be like the German generals?’
‘Which generals?’ Kelly asked.
‘The German generals in World War II,’ Trump responded.
‘You do know that they tried to kill Hitler three times and almost pulled it off?’ Kelly said.
‘No, no, no, they were totally loyal to him,’ Trump insisted.
Milley, who largely refrained from criticizing Trump while he was in office, looks to be attempting to smooth over his reputation by distancing himself from the former administration he served and cooperating with the book’s authors.
He now continues to serve in the same role under President Biden.
Milley, in his resignation letter, then implied that he believed Trump held bigoted beliefs and had fascist tendencies.
‘I swore an oath to the Constitution of the United States and embodied within that Constitution is the idea that says 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. It doesn’t matter if you’re Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, or choose not to believe,’ Milley wrote in the unsent letter.
‘It’s obvious to me that you don’t hold those values dear and the cause that I serve.’
‘Lastly it is my deeply held belief that you’re ruining the international order, and causing significant damage to our country overseas, that was fought for so hard by the Greatest Generation that they instituted in 1945. Between 1914 and 1945, 150 million people were slaughtered in the conduct of war. They were slaughtered because of tyrannies and dictatorships,’ he wrote.
‘That generation, like every generation, has fought against that, has fought against fascism, has fought against Nazism, has fought against extremism. It’s now obvious to me that you don’t understand that world order. You don’t understand what the war was all about. 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.’
After consulting with other political and military insiders, Milley decided not to resign. ‘Fuck that s***,’ he told his staff, according to the book. ‘I’ll just fight him.’
Instead he offered a public apology for appearing with Trump at a commencement for the National Defense University one week after the photo op.
‘I should not have been there,’ he said in the address, without mentioning Trump. ‘My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.’ It was, he added, ‘a mistake that I have learned from.’
‘If they want to court-martial me, or put me in prison, have at it,’ Milley told his staff. ‘But I will fight from the inside.’
Milley filed away the resignation letter and outlined four goals for resisting Trump from within: 1) make sure the president did not get the U.S. involved in unnecessary war overseas 2) make sure Trump did not use the military in American streets to keep himself in power 3) maintain the military’s integrity and 4) maintain his own integrity.
Then after the election was called for Joe Biden, Milley and Trump’s other Defense officials fretted that Trump would try to use the military to remain in power.
Former Sec. of State Mike Pompeo, til then Trump’s staunchest defender, even called Milley and asked if he could visit him at home. ‘The crazies have taken over,’ Pompeo told Milley.
Trump then fired Defense Sec. Mark Esper and Milley again wanted to resign in protest. ‘You can’t,’ Esper insisted. ‘You’re the only one left.’
Milley agreed, and instead stepped up his efforts to ensure Trump would not try to usurp democracy and engage the military to protect his power. In the coming weeks, Milley routinely convened the Joint Chiefs, to ensure they were resolute in resisting any scheme to keep Trump in power.