Skip to content Skip to footer

Joint Chiefs Chair Rebuffed Trump’s Demands to “Crack Skulls” of Protesters

Trump repeatedly expressed wanting to use the military to shoot protesters during the 2020 uprisings.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark A. Milley, right, listens while President Donald Trump speaks before a meeting with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on October 7, 2019.

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back several times last year against demands from former President Donald Trump to use military violence to potentially kill and suppress demonstrations in response to the police killing of George Floyd.

The revelations of conversations between Milley, Trump and others regarding the potential military intervention in uprisings is detailed in a new book titled, Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost, written by Wall Street Journal White House reporter Michael Bender. According to the book’s description, Bender relies upon “fresh interviews with Trump, key campaign advisers, and senior administration officials” as well as “an exclusive collection of internal campaign memos, emails, and text messages” to describe the inner workings of the White House between the end of Trump’s first impeachment to his second one.

Within the book, Bender chronicles Trump’s alarming interactions with Milley during the uprisings last summer. The former president reportedly said to his advisers that the military should be utilized to “beat the f–k out” of protesters taking part in the demonstrations.

“That’s how you’re supposed to handle these people. Crack their skulls!” Trump said, according to Bender’s sources.

Trump would also often say “Just shoot them.”

Milley would repeatedly rebuff Trump’s rhetoric demanding a violent response, believing the uprisings to be a political issue rather than one that required military intervention. When confronted by Milley and others, Trump relented, albeit only by a small amount, by saying protesters should be shot “in the leg” or “maybe the foot” instead.

Bender also described in his book a moment when Milley took Trump aside, to discourage the former president from considering use of the Insurrection Act to quell the protests, a possibility Trump had raised publicly in his social media postings. The law allows a president to use military force on U.S. soil against citizens in what are supposed to be extreme and limited circumstances.

According to Bender’s book, Milley, while speaking with Trump, pointed to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln to explain in terms the former president could understand why using the powers of the Insurrection Act would be wrong.

“That guy had an insurrection. What we have, Mr. President, is a protest,” Milley told Trump.

Upon reporting of these accounts described in his book, Bender took to Twitter on Friday morning to confirm them, stating that his depictions of Milley’s and Trump’s were “absolutely true.”

“Multiple senior officials who were in the room recounted these exchanges to me,” Bender wrote. “And there’s more to come.”

Milley made headlines earlier this week for rebuking comments from Republican lawmakers in Congress who questioned whether the military was teaching critical race theory, an academic concept that studies the history of racism and its continued systemic impact in the U.S., which conservatives have been using as a political bogeyman in recent months.

Rather than responding to the question in the framing that Republicans had used, Milley explained that the military needs to be “open-minded and widely read,” and that learning about issues or educating oneself about the concepts held within critical race theory wasn’t the dangerous thing that conservatives were making it out to be.

“I’ve read Mao Zedong. I’ve read Karl Marx. I’ve read Lenin. That doesn’t make me a communist,” Milley said on Wednesday in response to questioning from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida). “So what is wrong with understanding — having some situational understanding about the country for which we are here to defend?”

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $40,000 in the next 6 days. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.