In the wake of a war, meteorite strike, nuclear exchange, political insurrection, terrorist strike, natural disaster or similar condition of sufficient magnitude, Americans could have a very rude awakening in store for them.   We are conditioned to the freedoms we enjoy and are unencumbered by an overbearing police presence.   We are accustomed to legal due processes and anticipate the respect for our constitutional rights by authorities.   Young and old Americans alike might be thunderstruck and appalled to see these norms disappear instantaneously at the stroke of a pen.   Martial Law can happen all too easily and has occurred occasionally in isolated events throughout American history.   The 34 year old Federal Emergency Management Agency is tasked with sustaining and managing mass herds of people during or after a crisis; against their will if need be.   Created in 2002, USNORTHCOM is a military command that if requested, is assigned the authority  to potentially replace civilian law enforcement.   This post is just a preparatory and cautionary word for the wise, in case of such an event.

   Martial law is not mentioned in the Constitution.   It is a situation where normal civil authority is suspended and military authority is imposed.   It is a situation where the military acts both as the police and as the court, a situation where the precept of habeas corpus can be suspended.  Martial law is a situation where you can either choose to do what you are told, or get shot.   Martial law is a loose and ill defined concept, with few guidelines and with rules dictated by the top general present at the time.

* A writ of “Habeas corpus” is used to produce the body of an individual in court, and is a tool to prevent the police or government from holding people without a reason.   Martial law therefore permits arrest without regard to civil rights or Miranda rights,  and it permits indefinite detention of detainees – without charges being filed.  Although the term “martial law” is not used in the Constitution there is an article that states:  “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

Martial law occurs with frequency around the world and in the U.S. as well.   Martial law was imposed in Boston during the American Revolution, in New Orleans during the War of 1812, during the Civil War, in Hawaii for three years during WWII and in several smaller incidents nationwide.   Governors have the power to declare martial law.  Lincoln was the only president to declare martial law.   An announcement of martial law however is not necessary before federal troops can assume law enforcement authority on American soil.   Quote:  “A presidential declaration of martial law has not been a necessary predicate to the deployment of federal troops to control unruly and insurrectionist elements within the United States”… “Between 1807 and 1925, federal troops were used more than 100 times to quell domestic disturbances”.

* On April 30, 1899 President McKinley ordered federal troops to Idaho without issuing a presidential declaration of martial law.

* On April 28, 1914, “President Wilson ordered infantry units into Colorado, with orders to disarm all persons, including sheriff’s deputies, policemen, and members of the Colorado National Guard”.

* In July, 1932 President Hoover ordered the Army to forcibly evict the protesting ‘Bonus Army’ from campsites and temporary dwellings in the center of Washington D.C.   Composed of perhaps 43,000 people (at least 17,000 WWI veterans with families) the protesters were chased out of the capital with bayonets, tanks and Adamsite gas.   Under Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s orders, Major George S. Patton led the charge.  Major Dwight D. Eisenhower was there also.   The federal district of Washington D.C. is excluded from the restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act. 

* In 1958 President Eisenhower sent federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school desegregation (against the will of the state government). 

* In May, 1992, President Bush sent the Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Marines from Camp Pendleton into Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots.  

 * Martial law was not declared in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina of 2005.   Nonetheless as many as 15,000 armed federal troops, National Guardsmen and armed contractors roamed the city streets in the days after the hurricane.  Several looters, lawless street gangs and delusional individuals disappeared in the aftermath, never to be heard from again.

Two federal laws normally act to prohibit the Army, Navy, Air Force & Marines from acting in a law enforcement capacity.   The Coast Guard (which is part of DHS now) and National Guard (under state control) are not restrained by such a leash.   The intention of the Insurrection Act of 1807 was to limit the President’s power to use federal troops to quell lawlessness and rebellion.   The act shows preference to local and state governments for initial response in events like insurrection or threats to public safety.   The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally limits the power of the executive branch to use the military for law enforcement except where expressly authorized.   It was introduced as a bill by re-admitted southern congressmen long after the Civil War, who had been subjected to harsh martial law for about 13 years during the so-called ‘Reconstruction of the South’.   “Posse comitatus” is a Latin expression used in old common English law and means that the sheriff (an elected policeman with a retinue or force) has the right to draft or recruit citizens (a posse) to assist in law enforcement.   Again the presidential discretion to use military forces as law enforcement on American soil is forestalled or limited by the sheriff’s legal authority to form a posse.

There are potential penalties for negligently ignoring or overriding these two congressional acts or laws.   The president can only bypass the Insurrection Act if by his judgment; domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are unwilling or incapable of maintaining public order.   The most recent changes made to the Insurrection Act (2006, 07 & 08) broaden the president’s power to use federal troops or to declare martial law.   Previously a condition of “insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy” was required before intervention.   Now wording has been amended to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition”.

< There are many good sources of information about this controversial issue, in which a president might be allowed to assume dictatorial power.  Here are just two links. >

 “THE POSSE COMITATUS ACT: A PRINCIPLE IN NEED OF RENEWAL” by: Washington University Law Quarterly

1999 “Memorandum for the President” by: William J. Olson, P.C. Law Firm-“Presidential Powers To Use the U.S. Armed Forces To Control Potential Civilian Disturbances”

Prior to 1978 there was no planned or cohesive federal strategy to deal with crises or disaster relief.   Many government agencies contributed assistance, but in an unorganized and haphazard fashion.  FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was literally created on ‘Aprils Fools Day’- 1979.   In 2003 along with 21 other federal agencies, FEMA was lumped into the larger Department of Homeland Security (DHS).   FEMA was widely criticized for its ineffectiveness following Hurricane Katrina 2005.   FEMA and its parent department DHS as a tool of the executive branch have potentially been awarded broad sweeping and sobering powers.   By presidential directive, plans have been made for officers of the DHS to even assume the roles of the judiciary and legislative branches of government if necessary.  The authority to control the civilian populace (in time of crisis) expands almost every time an Executive Order, NSPD or HSPD (National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive) is issued.

  FEMA Zones

It makes sense that in preparation of future disasters that FEMA would isolate and select areas for the temporary housing of displaced people.   It stands to reason that such areas would be close to train tracks, airfields or highways for the efficient transportation of food, supplies and people.  It might also stand to reason that such areas or “camps” are fenced in with chain link fence and barbed wire.  This is a major point of controversy.  One only needs to be reminded that domestic violence, political insurrection, and now acts of terrorism, natural disasters and public health emergencies are now sufficient grounds to declare martial law and to incarcerate large sections of the public within closed (prison) camps.   It makes sense to a bureaucrat that FEMA camps should be numerous, widespread and prepared for any contingency.


White House Issues HSPD 20: National Continuity Policy (2007)

2008 ABC video : FEMA Domestic Terrorism & Genocide

Conspiracy minded text and videos outnumber positive counterparts.

A new entity called USNORTHCOM (United States Northern Command) was created in 2002.  USNORTHCOM is a military command with the task of protecting the homeland (and Canada, Mexico and part of the Caribbean) and to support federal, state and local authorities.  In 2008 the 3rd Infantry Division was put on-call as a response force to counter USNORTHCOM’s emergencies and disasters.   This was the first time that an American army division was delegated such a task.   USNORTHCOM oversees responsibilities that were previously delegated by other DOD organizations. USNORTHCOM’s arena and theater of “security cooperation” covers the entire North American continent (From Alaska and Canada to Mexico and the Caribbean Sea) and all waters to about 500 nautical miles out.


51 thoughts on “Martial Law, FEMA & USNORTHCOM

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