The US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the uniformed leaders of the military branches, have put out a rare message to service members saying the violent riots last week were an assault on America’s constitutional process and against the law.
The joint message on Tuesday broke nearly a week of silence by the military leaders after the assault on the Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump sent legislators into hiding and left five people dead.
While a number of Trump’s cabinet members including acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller condemned the storming, the top US general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, was silent until now.
“The violent riot … was as direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process,” said a memorandum signed by General Milley.
“The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection,” they said.
The military leaders said that President-elect Joe Biden would be inaugurated on January 20 and become their commander in chief, adding that members of the armed forces were bound to defend the constitution.
“Any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values and oath; it is against the law.”
The message came amid concerns that the Trump-supporting far-right groups, who raided the Congress to halt the certification of Biden as the next president, have supporters in the armed forces and law enforcement.
‘We don’t tolerate extremists’
Trump and his supporters have refused to accept that Biden fairly and soundly won the November 3 presidential election.
The Pentagon is deploying as many as 15,000 National Guard troops to protect Biden’s inauguration on January 20, amid fears of new violence.
Pentagon officials were asked on 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.
US officials said Milley had not commented on last week’s events because he wanted to stay out of politics.
The silence was in sharp contrast to June, when Milley made a controversial walk to a church with Trump after law enforcement officers backed by National Guard troops used tear-inducing chemicals and rubber-coated bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters.
Some service members have privately expressed concern that senior leaders did not provide direction in the aftermath of the attack on American democracy on Wednesday.
On Twitter, the head of US forces in South Korea said that what happened occurred in Washington, DC on Wednesday was an “attempted insurrection”.
“If you are serving in uniform and think it was something else, I would encourage (you) to sit down and read the constitution that you swore an oath to support and defend,” General Robert Abrams said.
There has also been a renewed focus on hardline groups within the US military after the Capitol storming.
The Army told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday that it was working with the FBI to see if any attackers were current service members and with the Secret Service to see if any of the nearly 10,000 National Guard troops securing Biden’s inauguration would need additional screening.