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Retired general warns US military could lead coup after 2024 election

As the anniversary of the Capitol insurrection approaches, a retired general has warned that the US military could lead a coup in the country after the 2024 presidential election if there is “confusion” about the results.

Paul Eaton, a former two-star US Army major general, shared his concerns about the possibility of another insurrection with NPR this week. He warned that the US military might be “compromised” by competing claims of who the commander in chief is after the next election.

The retired general said he was worried that some members of the military might not understand who they should take orders from if the election is disputed again.

“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,” he said. “We saw it when 124 retired generals and admirals signed a letter contesting the 2020 election,” he added.

The warning comes amid growing concerns about the deepening political divide in the United States, which was exacerbated by the events that marred the 2020 presidential election. The claim by former President Donald Trump and his allies that he lost the election to Joe Biden due to mass electoral fraud stoked the deadly assault on the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

Eaton said the military needs to be prepared in case of another contested election in 2024.

“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,” he told NPR this week.

Six months before the 2020 election, the US military held drills to prepare for four possible scenarios that might play out after election day.  

“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 percent of the Republican Party refusing to accept President Biden as president – but a compromise nonetheless,” Eaton said. “So, we advocate that that particular scenario needs to be addressed in a future war game held well in advance of 2024.”

Eaton, along with fellow retired generals Antonio Taguba and Steven Anderson, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post last month, sounding the alarm about the possibility of civil war and a military coup after the 2024 presidential elections.

“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,” they wrote.

The generals cautioned about potential turmoil in US armed forces, citing the “disturbing number” of veterans and active-duty members of the military that participated in the Capitol attack. More than 1 in 10 of individuals charged in connection with the riot had a service record.

“Without constant maintenance of order, a riot within the military, reflecting discord in society, is quite real,” they asserted.

The generals outlined a scenario in which some service members might pledge loyalty to a presidential candidate who refuses to concede defeat, as Trump did in 2020. “Under such a scenario, it is not outlandish to say a military breakdown could lead to civil war,” they wrote.

The generals are not alone in their assessment of the possibility of civil war or a military coup in 2024. Barbara F Walter, a political science professor and member of a key CIA advisory panel, has also struck a similar cautionary note. The United States is “closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe,” she warned last month.  

Walter argued that the United States has moved past stages of “pre-insurgency” and “incipient conflict” and may now be in “open conflict.”

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