James Mattis Blasts Trump's Response to George Floyd Protesters

The former Defense Secretary said Trump was "the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try."

James Mattis

Image via Getty/Steven Ferdman

James Mattis

James Mattis is ripping into his former boss Donald Trump.

On Wednesday, the former Defense Secretary issued a lengthy statement addressing the president's failure to unite the country amid civil unrest sparked by George Floyd's death. Mattis, who resigned from Trump's cabinet in 2018, specifically slammed the president for using the military "to intimidate protestors and inflame tensions," as well as making a "mockery of our Constitution."

"I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled," Mattis wrote in his statement, published by The Atlantic. "The words 'Equal Justice Under Law' are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation." 

He continued: "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. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."

Mattis also took a jab at the current Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, who reportedly urged governors to "dominate the battlespace" when dealing with the nationwide protests.

"We must reject any thinking of our cities as a 'battlespace' that our uniformed military is called upon to 'dominate.' At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors," Mattis wrote. "Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part."

Mattis' statement marks the first time he has publicly condemned the president since his resignation less than two years ago. The retired general confirmed his resignation shortly after Trump announced he would withdraw about 2,000 American troops from Syria—a decision Mattis strongly opposed.

"My views on treating allies with respect and also being cleareyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held," he wrote in his resignation letter to Trump. "Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position."

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