Former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman Mattis The US can't go back to business as usual with Pakistan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default MORE condemned President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE for his handling of the protests over George Floyd’s death in a fiery statement released Wednesday.
“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis wrote in a statement to The Atlantic.
“The words ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers,” he added.
Mattis said Trump is the first president in his lifetime “who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try.”
"We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership," Mattis added.
Mattis urged Americans to “unite without him.”
“This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children,” Mattis wrote.
Mattis’s decision to speak out seems to have been sparked by Trump’s threat on Monday to deploy U.S. troops to states to quell protests as well as by law enforcement firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters outside the White House before Trump walked to the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church to take a photo.
“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” Mattis wrote.
A White House official was not immediately available for comment.
Mattis resigned in December 2018, shortly after Trump announced plans to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria.
He has been reluctant since then to criticize the president publicly. Last year, he told The Atlantic he felt there was a period in which he owed his silence, adding that “it’s not eternal.”