“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” Mattis wrote in a statement released Wednesday evening.
Mattis urged Americans to not be “distracted by a small number of lawbreakers.”
He continued, “The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.”
Additionally, he turned to the controversial decision to use National Guard troops and law enforcement officers to disperse protesters who had gathered in front of the White House on Monday evening.
He wrote, “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”
On Monday, Trump said he would deploy the U.S. Military to cities to help quell violent demonstrations. But Mattis raised concerns that deploying the military in the U.S. “sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society.”
Additionally, Mattis blasted Trump as “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people.”
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
“We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another,” he said.
“We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s ‘better angels,’ and listen to them, as we work to unite.”
“Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad,” he concluded.
Trump has received heavy criticism after protesters who had gathered in front of the White House were dispersed, which cleared way for him to walk over to the historic St. John’s Church to pose for a picture.
Mattis’ statement marks a break from his previous commitment to stay silent while Trump is in office.
“You don’t endanger the country by attacking the elected commander in chief,” Mattis told Jeffrey Goldberg — the editor in chief of The Atlantic — in August, 2019.
He added, “I may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit, but our system puts the commander in chief there.”