Top military leaders remind troops of limits of free speech

Elias Hubbard
January 13, 2021

The military's top leaders issued a written reminder to all service members Tuesday that the deadly insurrection at the Capitol last week was an anti-democratic, criminal act, and that the right to free speech gives no-one the right to commit violence.

The Pentagon's top generals condemned the January 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters on Tuesday, telling United States troops that it was an illegal assault on the constitutional process. At least five people died during the storming of the Capitol.

In 2018, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, in his final message to the armed forces after he resigned in protest over deep policy disagreements with Trump over the country's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliances and the president announcing he was withdrawing troops from Syria, said, "I am confident that each of you remains undistracted from our sworn mission to support and defend the Constitution".

Underscoring the point, the Joint Chiefs said that, "in accordance with the Constitution", Biden would be inaugurated on January 20th "and will become our 46th commander in chief".

It has already been established that some military veterans participated in the riots at the Capitol, but the extent of any active-duty involvement has not been established. Sen. Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by Capitol police while attempting to break in to the Speaker's gallery, was herself an Air Force veteran.

"We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law", the message reads. "Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions and values and oath; it is against the law".

"As Service Members, we must embody the values and ideals of the Nation".

The memo represented a rare step for a US military leadership that has sought to keep the American armed forces out of the nation's rancorous partisan politics in recent years.

Milley and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper fought successfully to keep Trump from invoking the Insurrection Act, which would have allowed him to deploy active duty troops on American streets.

The Army told Reuters on Tuesday that it was working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to see if any attackers were current service members and with the Secret Service to see if any of the almost 10,000 National Guard troops securing Biden's inauguration would need additional screening.

Pentagon officials were asked Monday about the possibility of pro-Trump activists in the Guard and among regular troops.

'We don't tolerate extremists in our ranks, ' said spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

The chiefs closed by noting that Biden will be inaugurated January 20 and called on troops to remain focused on their missions.

A member of the military stands guard outside an office on Capitol Hill. United States officials said Milley had not commented on last week's events because he wanted to stay out of politics.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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