Army Gen. Mark Milley, America's top general, has apologized after he accompanied President Donald Trump on his highly controversial church walk. Speaking in a pre-recorded speech to a group of graduates from the National Defense University released on Thursday, Milley said the move, which was preceded by peaceful protesters being tear-gassed, was a "mistake."
According to CNN, Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted he "should not have been" at the photo op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square. He added that his "presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics" and that "as a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it."
The Trump administration drew widespread outrage for the June 1 incident. While Trump was giving a speech at the White House Rose Garden, announcing "mobilizing" federal resources, including civilian and military, a large group of peaceful protesters gathered outside of the White House were seen across several news outlets being tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and charged at by authorities. Moments later, the president and several others, including Milley, walked through the dispersed crowd to the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo-op in which he held a Bible.
The photo op and the violence that came before it sparked condemnation, including from Episcopal Diocese Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who said that she "just can't believe what my eyes have seen." Addressing the moment, she pointed out that Trump "did not pray when he came to St. John's, nor as you just articulated, did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now" and instead chose to share "a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus."
Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis also condemned the incident. In a statement published by The Atlantic, Mattis wrote that when he "swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution," he never imagined "that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens."
The protests come in response to the death of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. In his Thursday speech, Milley said he was "outraged" by Floyd's killing and added that the protests it sparked spoke to "centuries of injustice toward African Americans."