Former US President Donald Trump inquired about shooting protesters amid riots and civil unrest following George Floyd's murder in 2020, according to his second defense secretary, Mark Esper.
In a wide-ranging interview with NPR, Esper said he and other senior administration officials were shocked by Trump’s reaction to the unrest that swept the United States in the summer of 2020.
"The president was enraged," he said. "He thought that the protests made the country look weak, made us look weak and 'us' meant him. And he wanted to do something about it.”
The former Pentagon chief recalled that, at some point during a meeting with his team, Trump turned to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and asked whether the protesters could simply be shot.
"We reached that point in the conversation where he looked frankly at Gen. Milley and said, 'Can't you just shoot them, just shoot them in the legs or something?,” Esper said. “It was a suggestion and a formal question. And we were just all taken aback at that moment as this issue just hung very heavily in the air."
The United States was swept by civil unrest after George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020.
Bystander video of the murder -- in which Derek Chauvin is shown kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes as he gasps for air-- went viral, triggering international condemnation.
On the night of May 31, protests turned violent in Washington and rioters set parts of the US capital ablaze. The next morning, according to Esper, Trump was on the verge of ordering 10,000 active-duty troops into the streets of DC.
Esper, a former paratrooper and Army officer, said he did not think Trump was a leader of “integrity and character,” adding that he hoped Trump would not seek the presidency again in 2024.
"We need leaders of integrity and character, and we need leaders who will bring people together and reach across the aisle and do what's best for the country. And Donald Trump doesn't meet the mark for me on any of those issues."
Esper has written about the challenges of serving as Trump’s secretary of state in a new book, A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times. In the memoir, Esper describes Trump as a volatile, ill-informed president obsessed with power and self-image.