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Government

When Is It 'Enough' Insurrection?

Key Pentagon and former military leaders confront Trump over presidential power.

John J. Bastiat · Jun. 5, 2020

To hear the leftist version of it, the whole world is on fire because of President Donald Trump’s recent statement, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the U.S. military and quickly solve the problem for them.” It’s not on fire, their theory goes, because of widespread, unchecked looting, vandalism, and rioting in the wake of the George Floyd homicide. It’s Trump’s fault for alluding to his legitimate power to invoke the Insurrection Act.

We’ve previously discussed the president’s authority to invoke the Insurrection Act. The nutshell version is this: The Act authorizes the president to use federal forces to quell lawlessness in any state that is unwilling or unable to do so. Moreover, the Act is an exception to the oft-ballyhooed proscription in the Posse Comitatus Act for domestic uses of federal forces. Many also do not realize the Act has been invoked 19 times since its passage in 1807, most recently during the 1992 race riots in Los Angeles.

So the claims that an invocation of the Insurrection Act would be unconstitutional and/or without precedent are — like most leftist rhetoric — wholly false. Nor are the circumstances even unique. Out of the 10 most recent applications of the Act, nine were invoked as a result of race riots and associated tensions. With this backdrop, let’s evaluate a few of the more over-the-top statements from those who ought to know better — namely, a handful of retired general officers with axes to grind.

For instance, in a virtue-signaling piece in The Atlantic, “I Cannot Remain Silent” — you know, because “silence is violence” — former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) and retired U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen stated:

I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will serve with skill and with compassion. They will obey lawful orders. But I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops. Certainly, we have not crossed the threshold that would make it appropriate to invoke the provisions of the Insurrection Act.

Setting aside the fact that violence, not silence, is violence, we respectfully disagree with the pandering admiral, who was “sickened to see security personnel — including members of the National Guard — forcibly and violently clear a path through Lafayette Square to accommodate the president’s visit outside St. John’s Church.”

We suppose the good admiral would rather the mob take out the president?

In this case, the admiral once again tips his biased hand when he alludes to “the soundness of the orders … given by this commander in chief.” As to the threshold for provoking “provisions of the Insurrection Act” and echoing the title of this article, tell us, admiral: Where, exactly, is that line to be drawn? Moreover, who are you to presume such wisdom, without taking on so much as a hint of the accountability that accompanies making such a decision? Does this decision not fall exactly under the aegis of the president? If not, then whose?

Another star political appointee and former CJCS, retired U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, tweeted, “America’s military, our sons and daughters, will place themselves at risk to protect their fellow citizens. Their job is unimaginably hard overseas; harder at home. Respect them, for they respect you. America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy.” Right. Because Trump sees his fellow Americans as the enemy. This is a straw man worthy of Dempsey’s former boss, Barack Obama. I mean, it couldn’t have anything to do with the widespread lawlessness and abject local-leader failures to control the riots, looting, vandalism, and violence. No, of course not. Once again, it’s “Orange Man Bad!”

Potomac fever is a real thing, and the pile-on seems unending. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper even distanced himself, stating, “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 of situations. We are not in one of those situations now.” But we have been fast approaching that situation, and the president noted he might use the Insurrection Act — and then followed up with “I don’t think we’ll have to.”

And of course, no Donald-flogging would be complete without a weigh-in from retired Marine general and former Defense Secretary James Mattis. “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution,” he inveighed, adding, “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, 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…” Mattis then declared, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us.”

Insisting that the use of military forces to protect citizens from anarchists who are burning down inner cities (as past presidents have done) is tantamount to “violating the Constitutional rights” of the offenders is so absurd as to call into question who edited the Mattis missive. In effect Mattis is saying, This president is against all of America and wants to usurp the Constitution. Thanks, Mad Dog, and congrats on having punched your ticket to a lifetime of Beltway bubble cocktail parties.

The reality is that these generals and political wonks are all career “government men,” and Trump — the consummate non-politician New Yorker businessman — is a total mystery to them. They toss epithets like so much confetti at a parade, but the reality is that they completely misunderstand the dynamic that is Donald Trump. Will he invoke the Insurrection Act to suppress the riots? Probably not. Do they understand this? No. Absolutely not.

As to the longer-term ramifications of invoking the Insurrection Act, this is exactly what elections are for. If the people don’t like President Trump’s decisions — for any reason — they can register that displeasure in November. Admiral Mullen and the other members of this Beltway Battalion can then attack these issues anew. For now, though, silence isn’t violence; it’s golden.

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