Dozens of retired military and defense leaders on Friday criticized President Donald Trump and accused him of using the federal armed forces to undermine the rights of Americans protesting police brutality and the murder of George Floyd.
The criticism was voiced in an opinion piece signed by 89 former defense officials that was published by The Washington Post, and in a letter of support for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, signed by 55 retired military leaders.
A week ago, security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a peaceful protest near the White House, shortly before Trump walked to that area to pose with a Bible in front of a fire-damaged church. The president also threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to summon federal troops to quell the protests.
The Post article accuses Trump of betraying the oath he took when he took office “by threatening to order members of the United States military to violate the rights of his American comrades.” Defense leaders want the president to end any plan to send active-duty forces to cities and to avoid using them in any way that could jeopardize the constitutional rights of his compatriots.
The article was signed by both Republicans and Democrats, including former Defense Secretaries Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel, Ash Carter and William Cohen; former director of national intelligence James Clapper; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; and former Navy Secretaries Sean O’Keefe, Ray Mabus and Richard Danzig.
In a letter released by the Biden campaign, some leaders – including retired General Merrill McPeak, who was chief of staff of the Air Force in the 1990s -, ask Trump to stop “smearing the armed forces ”by placing them against peaceful protesters. They want the president to suspend his “divisive rhetoric” and acknowledge valid complaints from black Americans.
Technology Helps Organize Global Protests
Protesters are using a variety of technological tools to organize rallies, document police violence and communicate during the marches that have occurred in the United States and other countries following the death of George Floyd.
Among its tools are secure messaging services like WhatsApp, Signal and Telegram, which can encrypt texts to thwart spies.
Those apps, along with others for listening to police scanners and recording video, are experiencing a surge in popularity, but experts say convenience and range are still the key, favoring more established services, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
“Reaching as many people as possible is the number one criteria for the platform being used,” said Steve Jones, a media researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies communication technology.
That means Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – owned by Facebook – remain the easiest ways for people to organize and document mass protests. Facebook tools remain popular despite a flurry of criticism for the platform’s inaction after President Donald Trump posted a message hinting that law enforcement may open fire on protesters in Minneapolis.
“I don’t want to endorse or be part of something that possibly supports Trump and his racist and bigotry attack,” said Sarah Wildman, who has been to three protests in Atlanta and who has exclusively used Instagram to locate and document those protests. However, he admitted feeling that at this point “the benefits of Instagram are greater than not using it.”
Half a century ago, during civil rights protests, Jones said, it was almost impossible to know what was happening during a demonstration. “There were many rumors, many,” he said. “Now you can reach everyone almost instantly.”
Wildman said he uses Instagram’s “live” feature to find out what’s happening during the protests, especially when protesters in the back can ignore what’s happening on the front lines. At one point, he explained, people were yelling that the police were using tear gas, but it was not true, something he found out when checking Instagram.
Organizers are also using Telegram, an app that lets you send private messages to thousands of people at once, create channels for specific cities to give updates on the times and places of protests, as well as updates on where the police are. A Telegram channel for protests in New York City grew from just under 300 subscribers on Monday to nearly 2,500 on Friday.
During a peaceful demonstration Friday in Providence, Rhode Island, Anjel Newmann, 32, said she mostly uses Instagram and Facebook to organize, while other younger people prefer Snapchat.
White nationalists, however, are also turning to apps like Telegram to send messages to their followers, hoping to wreak havoc on the protests, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Center Against Extremism reported on a blog.
“Some, especially those in the field of accelerationism, celebrate the prospect of further violence, which they hope will lead to a long-promised ‘racial war’,” the ADL said Monday. “They are extremely active online, urging other white supremacists to make the most of the moment.”
On a Telegram channel, according to the ADL, participants suggested murdering protesters and then spreading rumors to blame the deaths on police snipers.
Others want to further exacerbate racial tensions. “A good time to hit race relations” and “post stickers that say the lives of black people don’t matter,” one user posted misspellings on the Telegram Reformthestates channel, according to the ADL.