Former US defence secretary Jim Mattis said he is “angry and appalled” by President Donald Trump’s heavy-handed use of the military to quell protests near the White House.

Mr Mattis, who retired from his post in December 2018 following disagreement with Mr Trump over Syria, also accused the president of setting up a “false conflict” between the military and civilian society.

“I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled,” he said.

He was speaking after protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody and took issue with Mr Trump’s walk to a church on Monday after police forcibly cleared Lafayette Square of mostly peaceful protesters.

He said he never dreamed troops “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.”

Mr Mattis, writing in the Atlantic, said: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. 

“Instead he tries to divide us.

“We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”