WASHINGTON — Virginia Rep. Don McEachin is urging U.S. House leaders to prohibit the Defense Department from using military force against peaceful protesters.
The Richmond Democrat sent a letter this month asking lawmakers to include language in an annual defense spending bill that would block funding “from being used for force against American citizens peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights.”
McEachin’s letter comes after his fellow Virginia Democrat, Sen. Tim Kaine, announced plans to introduce an amendment to the annual defense bill that would block President Donald Trump from deploying the military against protesters. Kaine is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is scheduled to debate the National Defense Authorization Act this week.
Trump last week threatened to use the U.S. military to “dominate” protesters, prompting widespread concern among his critics, including current and former defense officials.
“The pain and anger brought about by the tragic death of George Floyd have led many of our constituents to take to the streets to participate in — largely peaceful — protests,” McEachin said in his letter. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against police brutality. Many were peaceful but some, including in Virginia, included vandalism, looting, arson and shootings.
“Instead of uniting Americans and encouraging non-violence, however, President Trump has threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy active-duty servicemembers to quell protests turned violent if governors cannot restore order with National Guard troops,” McEachin added. “This is unacceptable and we must stand up against violations of the right to lawfully assemble.”
Kaine said last week that Trump was “trying to turn the American military against American citizens who are peacefully protesting on domestic soil, which they have every right to do. I’m not going to stand for it.” He said of his amendment, “I’m going to be pushing to ensure the President can’t treat the U.S. military as his personal palace guard to try to ward off peaceful protests.”
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.