“Can’t you just shoot them?” the former president asked. “Just shoot them in the legs or something?”
“Can’t you just shoot them?” Trump asked, according to Esper. “Just shoot them in the legs or something?”
Esper’s book confirms what Michael Bender of The New York Times reported last year. Bender wrote in his book Frankly, We Did Win This Election that Trump said he wanted the military to go in and “beat the fuck” out of Black Lives Matter protesters and that he said, “Just shoot them,” on multiple occasions. Bender added that Trump only toned down the order to shoot them in the “leg” or “foot” after Attorney General William Barr and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley pushed back on his initial request.
Esper writes that the moment in June 2020 when Trump made the request “was surreal, sitting in front of the Resolute desk, inside the Oval Office, with this idea weighing heavily in the air, and the president red-faced and complaining loudly about the protests underway in Washington, D.C.”
It shouldn’t have been that surreal. Trump had reportedly fantasized about shooting migrants trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2019, something Esper should have been well aware of before he agreed to serve as his defense secretary.
It was Trump’s suggested handling of Black Lives Matter protesters, however, that ultimately led to Esper’s ouster. The same month Trump said he wanted them shot, Esper said publicly that he opposed invoking the Insurrection Act, which would have allowed Trump to deploy active-duty military to tamp down the protests — something Trump had recently threatened to do if local government didn’t take stronger action. Trump threatened to fire him over the disagreement and ultimately did so in November.