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Amid violence fears, US army chiefs remind troops they are bound by Constitution

In striking letter to forces as National Guard deploys in Washington, Joint Chiefs of Staff say freedom of speech does not allow for ‘violence, sedition and insurrection’

US President Donald Trump speaks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Washington, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US President Donald Trump speaks in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Washington, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON — Amid worry about renewed violence on Inauguration Day, the military’s top leaders issued a written reminder to all service members Tuesday that the deadly insurrection at the Capitol last week was an anti-democratic, criminal act, and that the right to free speech gives no one the right to perpetrate violence.

A memo signed by all members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also reminded military members that Joe Biden was duly elected as the next president and will be sworn into office on January 20.

The memo was unusual in that the military leadership, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, felt compelled to remind service members that it is wrong to disrupt the constitutional process. The language went further than statements by the civilian leader of the Pentagon, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, by describing the assault as an act of sedition and an insurrection. Miller has called it “reprehensible and contrary to the tenets of the United States Constitution.”

“The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection,” said the memorandum.

Members of the US National Guard stand at attention after arriving on Capitol Hill on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)

The letter said the storming of the Capitol was an illegal assault on the constitutional process.

“The violent riot… was a direct assault on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process,” it said.

The message came amid concerns that the Trump-supporting extremists who raided the Capitol to halt the certification of Joe Biden as the next president have supporters in the armed forces and law enforcement.

Trump and his supporters have refused to accept that Biden fairly and soundly won the November 3 presidential election.

The Pentagon is deploying as many as 15,000 National Guard troops to protect Biden’s inauguration on January 20, amid fears of new violence.

Members of the National Guard walk through the Rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 13, 2021, ahead of an expected House vote impeaching US President Donald Trump. (SAUL LOEB / AFP)

Pentagon officials were asked Monday about the possibility of pro-Trump activists in the Guard and among regular troops.

“We don’t tolerate extremists in our ranks,” said spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

Underscoring the point, the Joint Chiefs said that, “in accordance with the Constitution,” Biden would be inaugurated on January 20 “and will become our 46th commander in chief.”

In South Korea, the commander of US Forces Korea, General Robert Abrams, retweeted the JCS statement saying there was “no ambiguity” and the events at the Capitol were an “attempted insurrection.”

“If you are serving in uniform and think it was something else, I would encourage [you] to sit down and read the constitution that you swore an oath to support and defend,” wrote Abrams. “No room on our team if you are not willing to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign AND domestic.”

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