Vets Label Trump a "Blue Falcon" for Attacking Gold Star Wife
October 25, 2017 Perry O'Brien / Common Defense & David Smith / The Guardian
The deaths of four US soldiers killed in Niger were at the centre of a political storm this week. The row, sparked by the president's remarks, drew in bereaved families, Gen John Kelly, and military veterans. Myeshia Johnson, the widow of slain soldier La David Johnson, has beed attacked on Twitter by Donald Trump. Vet warn: "by calling a grieving war widow a liar, Trump has crossed a line in the sand."
Blue Falcon Trump Attacks Gold Star Wife Perry O'Brien / Common Defense
(October 24, 2017) -- Myeshia Johnson -- widow of the late La David Johnson -- is being attacked on Twitter by the President again. We always knew Trump was a Blue Falcon; after all, he built his entire career on screwing over his business partners. But by calling a grieving war widow a liar, Trump has crossed a line in the sand.
The worst part is that former General John Kelly chose to lick Trump's boots and peddle the president's lies on national TV, rather than defend a Gold Star family.
This is despicable, but it reminds us why our mission at Common Defense is so important. Trump wants to hide behind our uniforms. As our Director Pam Campos told The Guardian recently, "it feels like stolen valour." But with your help, we can show them just how many of us are standing with Myeshia and Sgt. La David Johnson.»
As a community, we will not be silent about this. We applaud Myeshia Johnson and Rep. Frederica Wilson for speaking truth to power, and we applaud the thousands of veterans who took to social media last week and condemned John Kelly's betrayal of our troops in uniform.
It's unacceptable. The time has come to flip this system on its head. We need to expose just how disrespectful and traitorous these right wing extremists are.
This betrayal isn't anything new. For years, the GOP has used veterans as props whenever they need to be defended on TV. But then they just turn around and cut our health care, or ship us off to more never-ending wars. Now it's time to fight back.
Perry O'Brien is a US Army veteran who now serves with Common Defense.
Women Vets Talk Trump Common Defense (October 17, 2016)
WASHINGTON (October 21, 2017) -- It was a crisp autumnal day in Washington: perfect for an impromptu press conference in the White House rose garden. Reporters hastily gathered to see Donald Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, try to muster a united front. At first all was going swimmingly. Then, not entirely unsurprisingly, the US president tossed a verbal grenade that blew up the week.
Asked why he had not spoken personally about soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger 12 days previously -- the deadliest combat incident of his presidency so far -- Trump replied peevishly: "If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls -- a lot of them didn't make calls."
Former attorney general Eric Holder tweeted that it was time for Trump to "stop the damn lying." Alyssa Mastromonaco, a deputy chief of staff in the Obama administration, went further, tweeting that Trump's claim was "a fucking lie" and calling the president a "a deranged animal."
That was Monday. The events that followed would raise fresh questions about Trump's chequered relationship with the military. A commander-in-chief who has wrapped himself in the flag, surrounded himself with generals and anointed himself a champion of the men and women in uniform is also a man who avoided the draft for the Vietnam war and picks fights with veterans and grieving parents and widows.
"I haven't slept this week," said Pamela Campos, 30, a former operations intelligence analyst in the US air force. "For someone who never served himself, the president is very flippant about the deaths of our loved ones. You can tell when he tries to align himself with the military it's a photo op to make himself look patriotic. It feels like stolen valour."
On Tuesday, Trump dragged his chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired marine general whose son died in Afghanistan, into the row. "You could ask Gen Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?" he said in a radio interview. It was quickly pointed out that Kelly had been a guest at a May 2011 breakfast for Gold Star families at which he and his wife were seated at first lady Michelle Obama's table. Kelly later confirmed that he had not received a call from Obama, but clarified that presidents did not always reach out by phone to grieving families and often chose instead to write letters.
On the same day, Trump himself finally called the families of the soldiers killed in Niger. He spoke to Myeshia Johnson, the pregnant widow of Sgt La David Johnson. It emerged via Democratic congresswoman Frederica Wilson that the president said Johnson "knew what he was signing up for."
Wilson, who was riding in the family's car and heard the condolence call on speakerphone, described the remarks as "so insensitive." Trump said Wilson "totally fabricated" her version of events. But Johnson's mother endorsed Wilson's account, saying: "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband."
On Wednesday, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Kelly was "disgusted and frustrated" by the way his son's death has become politicised -- even though it was Trump who first mentioned him.
Meanwhile the Washington Post interviewed a military father whose son died in Afghanistan and who said Trump had called and promised to send him $25,000 from his personal account, but the cheque never arrived. It was sent on the day the story emerged.
On Thursday, Kelly himself strode to the podium in the White House briefing room and delivered a raw monologue about the pain of sacrifice. But he refused to call on reporters who did not have a connection to a Gold Star family.
He did not deny what Trump said on the call but accused Wilson of taking credit in 2015 for securing funding for an FBI building in Miami. "Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned" by her speech, he said.
Wilson responded that she was not even a member of Congress when the money was secured. The South Florida Sun Sentinel published a video that supported her version of the nine-minute speech and contradicted Kelly's. It showed that Wilson never mentioned the building's funding, though she did recount at length her efforts to help name the building in honor of the special agents.
On Friday, press secretary Sanders insisted Kelly had been telling the truth and said that it would be "highly inappropriate" to question a four-star general. That caused outcry in itself.
Wilson, who is African American, argued that Kelly's "empty barrel" slight was racist. The Johnson family are also African American. Trump has a long record of racially charged actions and statements including his claim that "both sides" were to blame for deadly violence at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On Saturday, the day of Sgt Johnson's funeral, Trump refused to let the matter rest. "I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson," he tweeted. " . . . She, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!"
'He Could Have Been a Hippy'
Trump also has a strained history with the military. When he was 13, he was sent to the New York Military Academy, a private boarding school, and seemed to thrive on the discipline and opportunity to play sport.
But he did not serve in Vietnam, instead receiving five deferments -- four for university, one for the medical reason of bone spurs in his heels -- from the military draft. In the 1990s he told Howard Stern, the radio show host, that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating "is my personal Vietnam."
Former students who knew him at the military academy recognize Trump's notorious divisiveness. Some are sympathetic. Peter Ticktin, 71, who was there with him for a year, said of this week's controversy: "It is such nonsense. Anyone who isn't hell-bent on hating him kind of knows what the truth is. There is no way Donald would call up a grieving family and do anything other than try to make their lives better. He's never been a person without empathy. The man's not crazy, not evil: he's a good person."
Former president Bill Clinton wrote to an army officer in 1969 thanking him for "saving me from the draft"; George W Bush remained stateside in the Air National Guard. Trump's non-service has been overplayed, Ticktin contends. "When we came of age to be drafted, they were not taking people who were flat-footed or would have trouble marching due to bone spurs, so what are you supposed to do?"
Ticktin also received a deferment for medical reasons because of a circulatory problem. He did not want to fight in Vietnam and believes that Trump felt the same way. Trump has subsequently said he thinks the US engagement in Vietnam was "ridiculous".
Now a lawyer in Boca Raton, Florida, Ticktin last spoke to Trump just after his election win. "I think he has true love in his heart that people don't understand," he added. "When it comes to love, he could have been a hippy. He loves people and, when it comes to the troops defending our country, he's 100% behind them. I know him and he's not false on anything. He just happens to be a good person trying to do the right thing and the best thing that can be done. He doesn't like losers and cowards but he appreciates bravery and winners and that's the military."
Mike Pitkow, 68, from Hilltown Township in Pennsylvania, who also encountered Trump at military academy, takes a very different view. He said: "Everything he does disgusts me with his inability to act presidential and perform anything of value in his role. Almost everything he says is complete bullshit: there's no substance to any of his statements. I feel badly for the military in terms of, 'what an embarrassment'. He doesn't deserve that kind of authority and rank."
Trump appears characteristically contradictory on military issues. He has pushed for a 10% increase in military spending while slashing billions from non-defence programmes. His administration includes Kelly; James Mattis, defense secretary and retired marine general; and national security adviser HR McMaster, still a uniformed lieutenant-general in the army.
Trump revels in set-piece occasions, donning a navy flight jacket and matching cap on an aircraft carrier, and admiring a military parade in Paris so much that he proposed similar for Washington.
Yet he has also exaggerated his donations to veterans groups, claimed America's generals were "reduced to rubble" under Barack Obama and mocked Senator John McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, saying he preferred war heroes who were not captured.
Last year Trump clashed with a Muslim gold star family when he attacked Khizr Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq and who electrified the Democratic national convention with a speech while brandishing the US constitution.
Khan this week expressed his condolences to the families of those killed in Niger and said: "They ought to be respected with measured words and the most dignified sentiments. That is the tradition of this nation and anything else undignifies the presidency."
Khan gives short shrift to Trump's claims to be pro-military. "He's a pathological liar and his words have no credibility. He has maligned Senator McCain many times. I'm surprised his surrogates have not sat him down to coach him how to conduct himself on matters that do not require politics or partisanship."
'A New Low'
Exit polls suggested veterans voted for Trump by about a two-to-one margin. In April, 54% of those who have served in the military approved of his job performance, according to the Pew Research Center. His strongest demographic -- older white men -- features heavily among veterans. But some have become outspoken against what they see as his attempt to expropriate and manipulate the armed forces for his own political ends.
Perry O'Brien, who served as a medic in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division and was discharged as a conscientious objector in 2004, said of this week's events:
"Everyone I know in the veteran community is deeply offended and unsettled. I think Donald Trump is hitting a new low. He already has a record of abuse and exploitation and mistreatment of the veteran community.
"My military friends are aghast that someone who has never served the country in a meaningful way would tell the grieving family that their loved one knew what he was signing up for. For those of us who have attended military funerals and lost someone, it's sickening. If it didn't have such grave consequences for our country and men and women in uniform, the hypocrisy would be comical."
New York-based O'Brien, 35, is organising director of Common Defense, a group that emerged out of growing concern that "Trump was using veterans as props to advance an agenda inconsistent with military values" and demeaning the service of groups including women, people of colour and people with disabilities.
The mood is becoming increasingly anti-Trump among veterans and active duty troops, O'Brien said. After Kelly's intervention on the president's behalf, some launched the Twitter hashtag #BlueFalcon -- military slang for "buddy fucker," a soldier who abandons or betrays their comrades.
Brandon Friedman, an ex-infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, said: "How can you be the president of the United States and find yourself arguing with the families of those killed in action and be accusing them of lying? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.
"He never served in the military -- he got deferments from Vietnam -- yet he goes to the military as his first course of action and threatens to bomb. He also portrays himself as a tough guy when everyone knows he is not."
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