No, Trump Did Not Fire Former Defense Secretary James Mattis – or Give Him ‘Mad Dog’ Nickname

Thom Geier

President Donald Trump on Wednesday lashed out at his first defense secretary, James Mattis, after a blistering statement from the retired Marine Corps general criticizing Trump for showing a lack of “mature leadership” and threatening to “Constitutional rights” in the response to the George Floyd killing.

In a series of tweets late Wednesday, Trump falsely claimed that he fired Mattis and that he “changed” Mattis’ nickname from “Chaos” to “Mad Dog.”

In fact, Mattis resigned from the cabinet in December 2018 after he disagreed with Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. And while Mattis has said he is not a fan of the “Mad Dog” moniker, news reports confirm that he’s had the moniker since at least 2004, when he served as commanding general in the 1st Marine Division.


…His primary strength was not military, but rather personal public relations. I gave him a new life, things to do, and battles to win, but he seldom “brought home the bacon”. I didn’t like his “leadership” style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 4, 2020


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Trump was clearly upset that Mattis broke his long silence about the administration on Wednesday in a sharply worded public statement criticizing the White House response to the George Floyd killing and the ensuing public protests. He singled out the military’s use in clearing peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square in front of the White House on Monday in order for Trump to make a public appearance posing with a Bible outside St. John’s Church.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” he wrote. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

He also rejected the president’s call to use the U.S. military in American cities to put down recent unrest. “We must reject any thinking of our cities as a ‘battlespace’ that our uniformed military is called upon to ‘dominate.’ At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict — a false conflict — between the military and civilian society,” he wrote. “It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.”

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