Trump considered 'shooting protesters', ex-Pentagon chief claims

Former president was furious at protestors in Washington following George Floyd's killing, book excerpts say

Former US president Donald Trump expressed fury at protesters outside the White House in 2020, according to former defence secretary Mark Esper. AFP

Former US president Donald Trump floated the possibility of harming protesters outside the White House in 2020, asking “Can't you just shoot them?” Mark Esper, the defence secretary at the time, claims in his coming book.

Mr Esper writes in A Sacred Oath that he was in the Oval Office when the former president expressed fury over activists protesting the killing of George Floyd.

“Can't you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Mr Trump is quoted as saying in book excerpts published by Axios.

The former defence secretary described the moment as “surreal” with “the president red faced and complaining loudly about the protests under way in Washington, DC".

“I had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid,” he wrote.

Mr Esper's account seemed to confirm previous reports of the former president arguing that the US military should intervene in the civil unrest sparked by Floyd's death.

An earlier book by journalist Michael Bender quoted sources saying Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Mark Milley argue against using the military as the president demanded a stronger response.

“Just shoot them,” Mr Trump said in conversations, according to Mr Bender's book.

epa08461507 People, who gathered in protest of the death of George Floyd, peacefully march to the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 02 June 2020. A bystander's video posted online on 25 May, shows George Floyd, 46, pleading with arresting officers that he couldn't breathe as one officer knelt on his neck. The unarmed black man soon became unresponsive, and was later pronounced dead. According to news reports on 29 May, Derek Chauvin, the police officer in the center of the incident has been taken into custody and charged with murder in the George Floyd killin  EPA-EFE/SHAWN THEW *** Local Caption *** 56127115

When Mr Esper and then-attorney general William Barr pushed back, Mr Trump changed his tone, but not by much, Mr Bender wrote.

“Well, shoot them in the leg — or maybe the foot … but be hard on them!” Mr Trump is quoted as saying.

The National Guard and US Park Police cleared protesters from the White House area through the use of tear gas, flash bangs and physical force.

Mr Esper publicly said at the time that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act, an 1807 law which permits active-duty troops to be used in the US.

The statement reportedly enraged Mr Trump and Mr Esper was sacked in November 2020.

Mr Esper's book, scheduled to be released on May 10, was vetted by the Pentagon and reviewed by four-star generals and some Cabinet members, Axios reported.

AFP contributed to this report

Updated: May 02, 2022, 4:31 PM