In a surprising twist, the nation’s top military official has apologized for being part of Donald Trump’s church photo op, which followed the police forcefully dispersing Washington, D.C. protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets.
In a pre-recorded speech, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called his appearance a “mistake” and said it “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Milley accompanied Trump and an entourage on a walk through Lafayette Square, from the White House to St. John’s Church, where Trump held a BIble for the photoshoot.
The images offended many lawmakers and former senior military officials who viewed Milley’s presence as endangering to the military’s traditionally apolitical stance.
“As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched. And I am not immune. As many of you saw, the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week. That sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society,” Milley said in the video. The speech was intended for a group of graduates from the National Defense University.
He added, “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”
Gen. Milley said he was “outraged” by George Floyd’s murder and that the resulting protests address “centuries of injustice toward African Americans.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who accompanied Trump that day, later said he personally had no idea Trump's photo op was happening. “I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops,” Esper said. “I didn't know where I was going. I wanted to see how much damage actually happened,” he added, referring to a vandalized bathroom in Lafayette Square.
Both Esper and Milley also reportedly didn’t know that cops were using tear gas and extreme force on protesters in order to take the photo.