The US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the uniformed leaders of the different military branches, on Tuesday put out a rare message to service members saying the pro-Trump mob attack on the US Capitol last week was an assault on America’s constitutional process and against the law.
The joint message broke nearly a week of silence by the military leaders after the assault on the Capitol that followed a rally in Washington in which Donald Trump exhorted his most loyal followers to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the seat of Congress and fight for lawmakers there to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden in November’s election.
The violent invasion of the Capitol sent members of Congress, staff and journalists into hiding and left five people dead and many injured, including police officers.
While a number of the president’s cabinet members, including the acting defense secretary, Chris Miller, condemned the attack, the top US general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, was silent until Tuesday.
“The violent riot in Washington DC on January 6, 2021, was a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our constitutional process,” the seven generals and one admiral said in an internal memo to troops, adding that the military remained committed to protecting and defending the US constitution.
“The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection,” the memo, seen by the Reuters news agency, said.
The military leaders said that the president-elect, Biden, would be inaugurated on 20 January as planned, and become not only the 46th US president but, as the office of the president includes, their commander in chief.
“Any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law,” the statement said.
US officials said Milley had not commented on last week’s events because he wanted to stay out of politics.
The silence was in sharp contrast to June, when Milley made a controversial walk to a church with Trump after law enforcement officers backed by national guard troops used tear-inducing chemicals and rubber bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters
Some service members have privately expressed concern that senior leaders did not provide direction in the aftermath of the attack on American democracy on Wednesday.
There has also been a renewed focus on extremism within the US military after the Capitol riot, with a large proportion of service members being white and male, the characteristics of the bulk of those who invaded the Capitol.
The army told Reuters on Tuesday that it was working with the FBI to see if any attackers were current service members, and with the Secret Service to see if any of the nearly 10,000 national guard troops securing Biden’s inauguration would need additional screening.