As thousands of protesters massed near the White House in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in June of 2020, former president Trump suggested that police officers disperse them violently — very violently. So says Mark Esper, Trump’s onetime secretary of Defense, in a forthcoming book about his time working for the president.
Axios reports that in the Pentagon-vetted book, Esper describes Trump asking him, of the protesters, “Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” Esper writes that declining to do so “wasn’t a difficult decision,” but that he then “had to figure out a way to walk Trump back without creating the mess I was trying to avoid.”
In their memoirs, former Trump officials often cast themselves as unrealistically heroic defenders of democracy, pushing back on a wannabe tyrant president. But Esper’s account seems pretty plausible. For one thing, the enthusiasm for state-sanctioned violence is hardly out of character for a guy who expressed a desire to see protesters roughed up at his rallies and once threatened Minneapolis demonstrators by tweeting, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” among many other provocations.
And Esper did have a record of pushing back against Trump, even if low-hanging fruit like “don’t send in the military” counts as pushing back. In June of 2020, Esper said that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act to quell protests around the country, angering the president. Trump almost fired him then, and eventually did after the 2020 election.