The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff told Donald Trump that demonstrations over the death of George Floyd were “penny packet protests” and that those taking part were “not burning” America down, a new book claims.
According to an upcoming book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Mark Milley sought to assure Mr Trump that Black Lives Matter demonstrators were not dangerous, and were not “burning America down”.
The conversation, which according to Fox News occurred in May 2020, was an apparent bid to ward Mr Trump off military action towards demonstrators after Floyd’s murder by police on 25 May in Minneapolis.
Rioting occurred in a number of US cities following Floyd’s death, causing Mr Trump to write on Twitter that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — in remarks that were condemned as an apparent incitement to violence.
“They used spray paint, Mr President, that’s not an insurrection,” Gen Milley reportedly said of the demonstrators, who first assembled in Minneapolis. “They are not burning [America] down”.
Gen Milley also pointed to a portrait of former US president Abraham Lincoln and argued that demonstrations over the death of Floyd were not as threatening as the militia bombardment of Fort Sumter in 1861 that sparked the Civil War, nor the riots seen in Washington DC in 1968, according to Fox.
Woodward and Costa reportedly write that the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Mr Trump that demonstrations were largely “penny packet protests” and that it was not an issue for the US military, because “we are country of 330 million people.”
Gen Milley also allegedly addressed systemic racism with Mr Trump, and referred to those taking part as belonging to “communities that have been experiencing what they perceive to be police brutality”.
As demonstrations took place throughout the US in 2020, Mr Trump referred to demonstrators as “thugs” who had “harass[ed] elderly Pittsburgh diners, scaring them with loud taunts while taking their food right off their plate”.
He was meanwhile blamed for using tear gas to brutally disperse crowds from Lafayette Park in Washington DC for the purposes of a photo op, and of allowing the violence to go on for weeks following the deployment of the National Guard in many cities.
According to Woodward and Costa, Gen Milley believed that the former president took a different approach toward the assault on the Capitol, which the Joint Chiefs of Staff thought “was indeed a coup attempt and nothing less than ‘treason.’”
He also feared that Mr Trump was looking for a “Reichstag moment” following the riot on 6 January, as he continued to believe that the election was rigged against him, according to Fox, who obtained a copy of Peril ahead of its release on 21 September.
The Independent has approached Mr Milley’s office for comment.