Retired General Warns the US Military
Could Lead a Coup after the 2024 Election
All Things Considered / National Public Radio
(December 31, 2021) — As the anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol approaches, three retired US generals have warned that another insurrection could occur after the 2024 presidential election and the military could instigate it.
The generals — Paul Eaton, Antonio Taguba and Steven Anderson — made their case in a recent Washington Post Op-Ed. [See article below — EAW] “In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time,” they wrote.
Paul Eaton, a retired US Army major general and a senior adviser to VoteVets, spoke with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly earlier this week.
Below are the highlights of the conversation (edited for brevity and clarity).
How Could a Coup Play out in 2024?
The real question is, does everybody understand who the duly elected president is? If that is not a clear cut understanding, that can infect the rank and file or at any level in the US military.
And we saw it when 124 retired generals and admirals signed a letter contesting the 2020 election. We’re concerned about that. And we’re interested in seeing mitigating measures applied to make sure that our military is better prepared for a contested election, should that happen in 2024.
How Worried Is He on a Scale of 1 to 10?
I see it as low probability, high impact. I hesitate to put a number on it, but it’s an eventuality that we need to prepare for. In the military, we do a lot of war-gaming to ferret out what might happen. You may have heard of the Transition Integrity Project that occurred about six months before the last election. We played four scenarios. And what we did not play is a US military compromised — not to the degree that the United States is compromised today, as far as 39% of the Republican Party refusing to accept President Biden as president — but a compromise nonetheless. So, we advocate that that particular scenario needs to be addressed in a future war game held well in advance of 2024.
Can the Current Pentagon Leadership Handle It?
I’m a huge fan of Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin, a huge fan of the team that he has put together and the uniformed military under General Milley. They’re just superb. And I am confident that the best men and women in the US and in our military will be outstanding. I just don’t want the doubt that has compromised or infected the greater population of the United States to infect our military.
What Should the Military Do?
I had a conversation with somebody about my age and we were talking about civics lessons, liberal arts education, and the development of the philosophical underpinnings of the US Constitution. And I believe that bears a re-teach to make sure that each and every 18-year-old American truly understands the Constitution of the United States, how we got there, how we developed it and what our forefathers wanted us to understand years down the road. That’s an important bit of education that I think that we need to re-address.
I believe that we need to wargame the possibility of a problem and what we are going to do. The fact that we were caught completely unprepared — militarily, and from a policing function — on January 6, is incomprehensible to me. Civilian control of the military is sacrosanct in the US and that is a position that we need to reinforce.
Are Civics Lessons ‘Weak Tea’ to Stave Off an Insurrection?
A component of that — unsaid — is that we all know each other very well. And if there is any doubt in the loyalty and the willingness to follow the Oath of the United States, the support and defend part of the US Constitution, then those folks need to be identified and addressed in some capacity. When you talk to a squad leader, a staff sergeant, a nine man Rifle Squad, he knows his men and women very, very well.
Retired Generals: The Military Must
Prepare Now for a 2024 Insurrection
(December 17, 2021) — As we approach the first anniversary of the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol, we — all of us former senior military officials — are increasingly concerned about the aftermath of the 2024 presidential election and the potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.
In short: We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.
One of our military’s strengths is that it draws from our diverse population. It is a collection of individuals, all with different beliefs and backgrounds. But without constant maintenance, the potential for a military breakdown mirroring societal or political breakdown is very real.
The signs of potential turmoil in our armed forces are there. On Jan. 6, a disturbing number of veterans and active-duty members of the military took part in the attack on the Capitol. More than 1 in 10 of those charged in the attacks had a service record. A group of 124 retired military officials, under the name “Flag Officers 4 America,” released a letter echoing Donald Trump’s false attacks on the legitimacy of our elections.
Recently, and perhaps more worrying, Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, the commanding general of the Oklahoma National Guard, refused an order from President Biden mandating that all National Guard members be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Mancino claimed that while the Oklahoma Guard is not federally mobilized, his commander in chief is the Republican governor of the state, not the president.
The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines — from the top of the chain to squad level — is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed.
Imagine competing commanders in chief — a newly reelected Biden giving orders, versus Trump (or another Trumpian figure) issuing orders as the head of a shadow government. Worse, imagine politicians at the state and federal levels illegally installing a losing candidate as president.
All service members take an oath to protect the US Constitution. But in a contested election, with loyalties split, some might follow orders from the rightful commander in chief, while others might follow the Trumpian loser. Arms might not be secured depending on who was overseeing them. Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war.
In this context, with our military hobbled and divided, US security would be crippled. Any one of our enemies could take advantage by launching an all-out assault on our assets or our allies.
The lack of military preparedness for the aftermath of the 2020 election was striking and worrying. Trump’s acting defense secretary, Christopher C. Miller, testified that he deliberately withheld military protection of the Capitol before Jan. 6. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reportedly scrambled to ensure the nation’s nuclear defense chains were secure from illegal orders. It is evident the whole of our military was caught off-guard.
With the country still as divided as ever, we must take steps to prepare for the worst.
First, everything must be done to prevent another insurrection. Not a single leader who inspired it has been held to account. Our elected officials and those who enforce the law — including the Justice Department, the House select committee and the whole of Congress — must show more urgency.
But the military cannot wait for elected officials to act. The Pentagon should immediately order a civics review for all members — uniformed and civilian — on the Constitution and electoral integrity. There must also be a review of the laws of war and how to identify and deal with illegal orders. And it must reinforce “unity of command” to make perfectly clear to every member of the Defense Department whom they answer to. No service member should say they didn’t understand whom to take orders from during a worst-case scenario.
In addition, all military branches must undertake more intensive intelligence work at all installations. The goal should be to identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers; guard against efforts by propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command; and understand how that and other misinformation spreads across the ranks after it is introduced by propagandists.
Finally, the Defense Department should war-game the next potential post-election insurrection or coup attempt to identify weak spots. It must then conduct a top-down debrief of its findings and begin putting in place safeguards to prevent breakdowns not just in the military, but also in any agency that works hand in hand with the military.
The military and lawmakers have been gifted hindsight to prevent another insurrection from happening in 2024 — but they will succeed only if they take decisive action now.
Paul D. Eaton is a retired US Army major general and a senior adviser to VoteVets. Antonio M. Taguba is a retired Army major general, with 34 years of active duty service. Steven M. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served in the US Army for 31 years.
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