Trump says admin 'will not even consider' renaming bases named after Confederate leaders, after Army signals openness

Military leadership said they were "open" to the discussion.

June 10, 2020, 4:03 PM

President Donald Trump said his administration "will not even consider" renaming military bases originally named after Confederate leaders, a day after the Army issued a statement saying top military leaders were "open" to the discussion.

"It has been suggested that we should rename as many as 10 of our Legendary Military Bases, such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Benning in Georgia, etc. These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom," the president tweeted on Wednesday.

"The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars," Trump continued. "Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations. Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!"

In a statement on Monday, an Army spokesperson said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy were "open to a bi-partisan discussion" about renaming the bases.

Asked on Wednesday about Trump's tweets, Army media relations said it had "nothing to add at this time."

There are 10 Army installations, including Fort Lee and Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, named after Confederate leaders from the Civil War. For years, critics have told the military it's long been time for change -- the names uplifting men who fought for white supremacy and the right to own slaves.

In this Sept. 26, 2014, file photo, a sign of Fort Bragg is seen in Fayetteville, N.C.
Chris Keane/Reuters, FILE

But as recently as February, the Army said it had "no plans to rename any street or installation," saying it was "important to note that the naming of installations and streets was done in a spirit of reconciliation, not to demonstrate support for any particular cause or ideology."

"The Army has a tradition of naming installations and streets after historical figures of military significance, including former Union and Confederate general officers," the statement said at the time.

An official told ABC News that the death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25 and the subsequent protests against police brutality and racial inequality in America have led Defense Department leaders to reverse that earlier stance and signal openness to a conversation about renaming the bases. Meanwhile, cities across the country have chosen to remove statues of Confederate figures.

An inspection crew from the Virginia Department of General Services takes measurements as they inspect the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, June 8, 2020, in Richmond, Va.
Steve Helber/AP

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told reporters on Tuesday that he was supportive of changing the names "that carry racial connotations and imply continued racism in our society."

"The military is actually one of the most successful institutions in our nation in integrating and avoiding discrimination," Blumenthal, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. "So renaming these bases would be very, very appropriate for the military to do, recognizing the progress it's made -- more progress than many other sectors of our society. And I hope the secretary of defense will in fact consider it."

ABC News contributor Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and retired Marine, suggested the Army could rename its bases after Medal of Honor recipients from those states. Mulroy grew up near Fort Gordon in Georgia, named after Confederate general John Brown Gordon who opposed Reconstruction and is believed to have led part of the Klu Klux Klan.

"Since the Civil War ended, there have been almost 30 Medals of Honor from Georgia by my count," Mulroy said. "I would start there, then move on to the next installation."

"Although the Civil War should be remembered as part of our history, that should be done in museums and by historians," he added. "American soldiers should serve on bases that are named after the heroes that have sacrificed and fought for our country, not against it."

But at the White House on Wednesday, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated that the president does "fervently stand against the renaming of our forts."

"Fort Bragg is known for the heroes within it that trained there, that deployed from there, and it's an insult to say to the men and women who left there, the last thing they saw on American soil before going overseas and in some cases losing their lives to tell them that what they left was inherently a racist institution because of the name," she said. "That is unacceptable to the president."

Floyd's death has also sparked a conversation about the display of Confederate paraphernalia on bases. Back in February, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger banned Confederate symbols, including the Confederate flag, from Marine Corps installations, writing they had the "power to inflame feelings of division."

On Monday, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., wrote to the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard to enact a similar regulation and prohibit the display of the Confederate flag.

"Honoring the 'lost cause' of those who waged war against the United States of America, or defending the right of an individual State to allow its residents to own, sell and kill fellow Americans as property, has no place in our Nation, especially the U.S. Armed Forces which waged a deadly war to eliminate the barbaric practice of slavery," wrote Duckworth, a combat veteran.

"Critics of banning the public display of the Confederate Battle Flag may accuse me of seeking to 'erase' history," she continued. "Nothing could be further from the truth. ... Banning celebration is distinct from education."

Late Tuesday, the Navy announced they would follow the Marine Corps' lead and ban the Confederate flag.

"The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Mike Gilday, has directed his staff to begin crafting an order that would prohibit the Confederate battle flag from all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines," said Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for Gilday. "The order is meant to ensure unit cohesion, preserve good order and discipline, and uphold the Navy's core values of honor, courage and commitment."

An Army official also told ABC News that their service would be "working on a plan to develop policy and procedures to exclude or prohibit the display of Confederate symbols on Army installations."

ABC News' Trish Turner and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.

This report was featured in the Friday, June 12, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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