In a week of heated debate about President Donald Trump’s controversial deployment of thousands of US troops to the southern border, nothing drew harsher pushback from former military leaders and veterans than his suggestion that US troops treat migrants throwing rocks as if they were armed with rifles.
“Anybody throwing stones, rocks […] we will consider that a firearm because there’s not much difference,” Trump told reporters Thursday, seeming to imply a radical change in the US military’s rules of engagement. “I told them consider it a rifle when they throw rocks, like they did at the Mexico military and police.”
Trump seemed to walk his remarks back Friday, saying migrants who threw rocks were “going to be arrested,” not shot. But they’d already been widely condemned by former Pentagon brass, retired military officers, and veterans, many of whom already had been seething that the US military was being deployed in a “political stunt” ahead of next week’s midterm elections.
Responding to rock-throwers with lethal force would be an “unlawful order” that goes against US troops’ entire training and demonstrates Trump’s ignorance of how the US military operates, they said. Many also called on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who has been largely silent on the rapid deployment of more than 7,000 active-duty troops to stop Central American migrants from entering the country, to step up and say something.