For years, I admired Gen. Mark Milley and defended him in conversations when others attacked him as being too political. No more. The breaking point was Milley’s recent testimony before Congress. Others have pointed out much of what was wrong with his testimony. But the worst part has gone unnoticed and unremarked.
It was not his statement that “thousands of people” assaulted the U.S. Capitol building. Nor was it his fabrication of “white rage” as the cause for the January 6 riot at the capitol. It was not even his false equivalency of officers who have studied Mao Zedong in order to understand their enemies with the current exhortations to read unabashed race-baiters and other charlatans, not to understand our enemies, but because many in the government, including in the military, are promoting their propaganda.
No, the most dangerous aspect of this testimony by the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military was validating the use of military personnel and lethal military force against political opponents of the administration. Is that a stretch, you may ask? No, if we take Milley at his word, it is the inevitable conclusion that follows from his testimony. Here is why.
The oath of office to which Milley and every officer in the U.S. military swears upon his or her commissioning is a solemn oath to defend “the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Military officers take that oath very seriously. It is not something that Milley or any other officer parrots and then forgets.
It is not an idle, aspirational goal. It is the foundation for all that they will be charged to do throughout their careers. It is the bedrock of their commitment. Combat officers put their very lives at risk to honor and fulfill that oath. So when Milley identified the “thousands” he claims attacked the capitol as insurrectionists who were trying to “overturn the Constitution of the United States of America,” that was one of the most serious charges he could make.
“So, what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that?” he said in his testimony on June 23. If they want to “overturn” the Constitution, they are the “domestic enemies” against whom Milley and the rest of the military are obligated by their oaths to defend.
As we all know, the military is not a police force. The purpose for its existence is to defend the Constitution with the lethal force of arms.
Milley’s testimony alleging there were “thousands” of such people assaulting the capitol building can only be true if, in addition to the several hundred unarmed people who actually entered the capitol building, he counts the thousands of Donald Trump supporters and conservatives who attended the president’s rally and then marched to the vicinity of the capitol.
It certainly is fair to assume that most of them were supporters of the president and were strongly suspicious of the election results and the courts’ and Democrats’ refusals to consider the merits or the extent of the claims of fraud. Thus, they clearly were political opponents of the Democrat ticket, seeking to avoid certification of the election results. Right or wrong, they have a lot of company who earnestly believe their concerns are well-grounded and merit a full investigation.
But by giving his carefully planned testimony claiming these demonstrators were trying to “overturn the Constitution,” Milley was labelling them as domestic enemies against whom his oath of office justified the employment of military force.
Milley did not attempt to qualify his endorsement of the potential use of military force against the administration’s political opponents by limiting it to situations where there was great violence or destruction of property, armed mobs running amok, murders of police officers and others, burning of federal buildings, or other serious threats. Nor has he, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, or anyone else in the administration defined exactly who these “domestic enemies” are, even though they have launched an offensive to root them out.
Instead, supporters of former President Trump and, indeed, all conservatives are routinely lumped together under various vague and undefined but highly negative labels, such as white supremacists, white nationalists, fascists, and now, citizens gripped with something called “white rage.” The variety of people arbitrarily thrown into one of these categories also indicates the “domestic enemies” are simply anyone with whom the government disagrees or who opposes the Biden-Harris administration.
Milley may object, claiming that he was not justifying the use of military force against these political opponents of President Biden. He may claim that this logical result of his words was not his intent.
But I give him the benefit of a presumption that any time a man of his experience and stature testifies before the Congress of the United States, he chooses his words carefully, understands and intends their consequences, probably has them vetted by his staff, and does not “shoot from the hip.” His were the words that labeled the thousands of pro-Trump demonstrators as those who would “overturn the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Notwithstanding their hysterical opposition last summer to the idea that President Trump might have sought to use the military to quell the real riots that were killing people and tearing cities apart, President Biden and the other Democrats now understand that if they choose to use military force against their perceived domestic enemies, they have the green light from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.