The country's top military officials sent a rare memo to service members on Tuesday night, condemning last week's pro-Donald Trump riot in the U.S. Capitol and reasserting the military's apolitical role amid a tumultuous time for the nation.
The memo, sent by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to more than a million active-duty service members and the National Guard, describes the insurrection as "a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process."
Trump had initially encouraged attendees at a rally on Jan. 6 to march down to Congress, but he later made contradictory statements as the protesters transformed into a violent mob: He described them as "very special" and said "these are the things and events that happen," while conspicuously not condemning the assault. Later, however, he insisted he wanted peace.
Tuesday's letter was signed by the country's eight national military leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
"We witnessed actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law," the group wrote. "The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection."
The riots, in which five people were killed, were broadly condemned by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers — including some of those same politicians who went on to still vote for Trump's baseless election challenge — as well as federal law enforcement agencies.
The memo from the Joint Chiefs of Staff follows reports that some veterans were among the mob who breached the Capitol after Trump encouraged his rally attendees that day to "fight like hell." One veteran, Ashli Babbit, was shot and killed by police at the Capitol.
Politico reported that Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran, wrote a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller calling for an investigation into former service members taking part in the riot, referring to it as a "coup attempt."
Duckworth, who served in the Iraq War, told Miller it would be a "disgraceful insult" to current military members if the reports were true.
In their letter Tuesday, the military leaders said that "as service members, we must embody the values and ideals of the nation."
"We support and defend the Constitution," they wrote. "Any act to disrupt the constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values, and oath; it is against the law."
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