Trump on BLM Protesters: ‘Can’t You Just Shoot Them?’

Trump’s former defense secretary says he asked if racial justice protests could be stopped by shooting protesters “in the legs or something.”
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. (Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump asked then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper if protests near the White House following the murder of George Floyd could be stopped by shooting protesters, according to Axios

Esper, who made the revelation in a book set to be released next week, said that Trump was “red-faced” and “complaining loudly about the protests under way.” Trump, according to Esper, asked: “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?”


“The good news — this wasn’t a difficult decision,” Esper wrote, according to Axios. “The bad news — I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid.”

On June 1, 2020, the National Guard, U.S. Park Police, and local police used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters out of Lafayette Park. Esper later told a House panel that he didn’t know who issued the order to tear-gas protesters; though it was initially reported that the protesters were cleared out so Trump could stage a photo op at a church, an Interior Department Inspector General’s report last year concluded that the protesters were cleared out in order to put up a fence around the park.

Esper publicly opposed Trump invoking the Insurrection Act to stop the protests, saying at the time that “the option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire situations. We are not in one of those situations now.” 

Trump considered firing Esper at the time, according to the Wall Street Journal, but he decided to keep him; Trump later “terminated” Esper after losing the 2020 election, which he still insists he won. 

Esper’s book was reviewed by nearly three-dozen high-ranking officials—including other Cabinet secretaries and people from the Pentagon—before it was cleared for release, according to Axios. Esper initially sued the Pentagon over classification but pulled the lawsuit earlier this year after the Defense Department dropped its objection to the “overwhelming majority” of the content in Esper’s book, Esper’s lawyer told the AP in February

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