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Hundreds of West Point alumni call out Esper over military's role in protests

Hundreds of West Point graduates are calling out top Pentagon leaders for failing to uphold the Constitution in their response to the nation-wide protests this month, according to a letter penned by a coalition of concerned alumni. 

The letter, published by Medium and addressed to the school's class of 2020, comes two days before President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s scheduled speech at the school’s commencement and commissioning ceremony. The 1,000 graduating West Point cadets were called back to campus for the event despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“The oath taken by those who choose to serve in America’s military is aspirational. ... By accepting your commission, you incur a moral purpose and obligation to provide for the common defense. In doing so you enable the nation to fulfill the full range of its aspirations,” the hundreds of alumni wrote.

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“Today, our Constitutional aspirations remain unfulfilled,” they added.

Protests erupted across the country following the May 25 death of unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer, who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

The incident, while inspiring millions to protest police brutality and persistent racism, also prompted Trump to threaten “to use the Army in which you serve as a weapon against fellow Americans engaging in these legitimate protests.”

“Worse, military leaders, who took the same oath you take today, have participated in politically charged events,” the letter states, referring to Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperWatch Out: Progressives are eyeing the last slice of the budget Biden needs to fill the leadership gaps on Day One US meets troops reduction goal in Afghanistan, Iraq MORE, a West Point graduate.  

Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley have been heavily criticized for accompanying President Trump to a photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Law enforcement, backed by National Guard troops, forcefully cleared peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square outside the White House, allowing Trump to walk to the church.

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Esper and Milley, who was wearing combat fatigues, walked behind Trump, and Esper appeared alongside the president in a photo in front of the historic building. 

Milley said Thursday that he regrets his participation.

“I should not have been there,” Milley said during a recorded message aired at the graduation of the National Defense University. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” 

And Esper has maintained that he didn’t know that the event would be a photo opportunity.

“I did know that following the president's remarks on Monday evening that many of us were wanting to join President Trump and review the damage in Lafayette Park and at St John's Episcopal Church,” Esper said. “What I was not aware of was exactly where we were going when we arrived at the church and what the plans were once we got there.”

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The West Point alumni, however, rebuke Esper for “blind obedience” and the “politicization of the Armed Forces.”

“We are concerned that fellow graduates serving in senior-level, public positions are failing to uphold their oath of office and their commitment to Duty, Honor, Country,” the letter states. “Their actions threaten the credibility of an apolitical military. We ask you to join us in working to right the wrongs and to hold each other accountable to the ideals instilled by our alma mater and affirmed by each of us at graduation."

Numerous former military leaders have also come out in opposition of the use of the military against U.S. citizens, including former Defense secretaries James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick Overnight Defense: National Guard boosts DC presence ahead of inauguration | Lawmakers demand probes into troops' role in Capitol riot | Financial disclosures released for Biden Pentagon nominee MORE, Leon Panetta, Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history John Kirby to reprise role as Pentagon press secretary under Biden 10 former Defense secretaries call on Pentagon to stay out of election fight MORE and Ash Carter, as well as former Joint Chiefs heads Mike Mullen and Martin Dempsey.

“Your commitment to your oath will be tested throughout your career. ... Unfortunately, some will make a Faustian bargain and endeavor to please their commanders and advance their own careers rather than take care of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines in combat — which is not just a problem, it is a disgrace,” they wrote. “America needs your leadership.”