President Trump salutes after speaking to cadets at a commencement ceremony at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on June 13. (Alex Brandon/AP)

The weekend warriors in their Army surplus battle rattle, their paintball weapons and gun show specials are getting lots of love from this clown show’s commander in chief.

GREAT PATRIOTS!” President Trump tweeted, along with a video of the vigilantes flouting the law and causing disorder while cruising the streets of an American city.

Meanwhile, the real defenders of freedom — the men and women of the U.S. military — aren’t getting love from Trump. And they’re sure not giving it.

Unsurprising, given the way Trump didn’t even blink at reports that Russia was paying bounties to Afghan troops for American kills. Or that he was impeached for withholding military aid to Ukraine, putting global trust in America’s military at risk. Or that he keeps trying to take millions in military funding — gutting plenty of military projects right here in the D.C. region, including a day care for military kids — to build his wall.

Trump has a wall to build, so military kids will have to wait

There has been waning support for Trump in the military over his four years. Some of it began with his bone-spur excuse to avoid the draft and his bravado at equating his private, military school cosplay with true military service.

“I felt that I was in the military in the true sense because I dealt with those people,” he told author Michael D’Antonio in his book “Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success.”

Nice try.

Social media is full of veterans explaining why they aren’t voting for Trump. Like Dave, a Marine Corps veteran from Wisconsin who served alongside Muslim Americans and was taken aback by Trump’s early anti-Muslim stances. Dave, who didn’t give his last name in the video he posted with Republicans Against Trump, generated a string of responses from other veterans on Twitter with similar fear for our Constitution. Some just gave him an “Ooooh-raaah!!”

I found Dave because one of my husband’s childhood friends, a longtime, die-hard Republican and military veteran who’s argued with me for 25 years and voted for Trump in 2016, posted his own story on the Republicans Against Trump catalogue of testimonies. Read them: Ridge from South Carolina, Casey from California, Justin from Tennessee and on and on.

I can see it in the veterans in my community, and I’ve been surprised by the vocal support from folks who’ve usually been quiet.

The militarization of D.C. was all about reality show stagecraft

I’m now Facebook friends with a former Pentagon official I knew as a reporter.

“We’re tired of the GOP chokehold on patriotism, and tired of hearing that Democrats hate America,” George Wright stated as the reason he founded the Kentucky Democratic Veterans Council.

“We don’t seek members from the active-duty ranks,” Wright explained, after I asked about his retirement project. “But I’m pleased to see what appears to be increasing disenchantment with a president who’s an undignified con man.”

But none of these insults matches the slow simmer we have seen among top military officials over Trump’s latest bluster about moving troops around American soil like his personal toy soldiers.

He wanted to put 10,000 troops on the ground in D.C. during the protests at the end of May. The stagecraft orchestrated with the National Guard around the nation’s capital in those days was Oscar-worthy.

Having been to dangerous places around the globe, having put their own lives on the line while seeing the way other nations treat their people, the great patriots of the military understand how dangerous the surplus-store vigilantes are.

When Trump used federal officers against civilians in the June 1 clash outside the White House — when they cleared the way for him to stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible — 89 former defense officials wrote a chilling op-ed in The Washington Post about the danger he is trying to unleash.

“Beyond being unnecessary, using our military to quell protests across the country would also be unwise,” the leaders wrote. “This is not the mission our armed forces signed up for. . . . It also risks diminishing Americans’ trust in our military — and thus America’s security — for years to come.”

Will Trump bring in the military if he doesn’t like the election results?

What have been largely peaceful protests across the nation — between 13 million and 26 million people have taken part in a social justice protest following the police killing of George Floyd — are starting to include ugly clashes, thanks in large part to Trump and the way he fuels the chaos. He is threatening to send troops to more American cities, and he ordains the gun show vigilantes as his personal army each time he praises their actions and demeans protesters.

After a teen vigilante was charged in the fatal shooting of two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wis., and an apparent pro-Trump demonstrator was killed in Portland, the protests in D.C. started back up this weekend. And it means folks in the military are again nervous about being called into politics.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), who used to fly helicopters for the Navy, had to ask the Pentagon whether it would stand down come Election Day. She and another lawmaker, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former CIA analyst, wrote a letter to Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper asking for their assurances in November.

This is not normal. And it’s not American. It’s time to support our troops, America, by listening to them.

Twitter: @petulad

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