With recent events taking place inside the United States as well as outside, it isn’t hard to imagine the United States government declaring martial law under the guise of maintaining order.
The truth is that martial law might be a last ditch effort to maintain power and ignore the will of the people. Martial law is a way to consolidate power into the executive branch and will strip American Citizens of their inalienable rights under the Constitution.
In order for the president to justify declaring martial law, the country must be experiencing at least one though realistically several of the following events:
The vast majority of the civilian government has become ineffective. This is intended to save the country in the event that a massive attack eliminates a large portion of the governing officials, though a power-hungry leader might cite a Congress with a record low approval rating as their justification to steal power.
During a war that is being fought on U.S. soil. Of all the possible inciting incidents, this is the hardest to manipulate as it takes the involvement of a foreign country.
Given the extreme nature of this event, it is likely that the officers in charge of individual military units would control the government, rather than a power grab on behalf of the President.
During and after an attempted coup. If an internal force threatens the United States government, it is likely that the military would take control as it offers stronger security than traditional law enforcement.
During extensive riots, rebellions, or perceived rampant lawlessness. The sight of mobs attacking white individuals in the wake of police shootings has become a common occurrence during the year of 2016.
It has become common practice for local governors to activate the National Guard to supplement law enforcement officials though this is not true martial law.
In the case of the Ferguson riots, National Guard members were not allowed to carry firearms in order to try to lower the tensions between the rioters and the rest of the city. During true martial law, the military will operate under a much looser Rules of Engagement (ROE).
The last and most dangerous reason why the United States government could declare martial law would be if the status quo perceived that they have lost control and authority.
The reason why this is the most dangerous is because of how loosely it can be interpreted. If the current President believed that President-elect Donald Trump was jeopardizing the security of the national, would this justify a veiled attempt to hold onto to power?
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Localized Martial Law
Within the last year, armed protestors occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge due to a dispute with the federal government. In the ensuing weeks, Harney Country Oregon fell under localized martial law, even if the press did explicitly call it that.
The big difference between local, partial, and total martial law is involvement of strict military units. In this case, only law enforcement departments responded to the protesters, though several elements of martial law were enacted.
Road blacks, random searches, and harassment by the hands of government officials all contributed to the police state during and in the weeks after the protest. While the federal government was exercising power, localized martial law is intended to protect property and civilians.
The main difference between the Oregon standoff and the riots in the wake of Black Lives Matter, is the lack pervasive violence. Once a state declares a state of emergency, they can mobilize National Guard units to supplement the efforts of law enforcement.
Emergency Martial Law
For the moment, let’s ignore the possible reasons why the nation could fall under martial law and talk about what would actually happen if it did.
While many people likely think of companies of troops patrolling the streets and knocking down doors, this is only a small fraction of what an all-out domestic military occupation would look like.
Starting immediately after the President issued his executive order, a message would go out to the members of the National Guard.
The National Guard is only domestic military force authorized to operate on U.S. soil. The idea is that Guardsmen often hail from the areas in which they stationed so that they can better sympathize with the people in which they interact with.
This simple reason is why the Regular Army rarely responds to natural disaster and the mission is put on the shoulders of the Guard.
Once an individualsoldier received their orders, they would report to their assigned armory and take guidance from their chain of command. This would result in massive military presence within 24 hours. No joke, it would only take 24 hours before the average person could see the presence in their hometown.
Almost every single town in America has a National Guard armory even if you have never noticed them. Most days, only a few service members are present, though they likely have a roster of over a hundred individuals ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
These units would initially set up Traffic Control Points (TCP’s) primarily as a show of force. The idea is that seeing a military presence would mitigate any possible insurrections that would occur.
The local units would receive direction from higher echelons in the government and would implement policies that would prohibit free speech, press, and assembly.
Once it gets to this point, the government does not want anything to instigate further strife so even though it sounds intimidating, the military would likely have a high-level of restraint before using lethal force.
It is important to remember that the people who are making up these forces are not some outside, federal agents. They likely live in the same communities that they are patrolling and will not want to hurt any of their neighbors.
Though it is recommended to keep your head down, it should be noted that many National Guard members are a bit more lenient than their active duty counterparts.
Total Martial Law
If whatever incident is quelled by this step in enacting martial law, then it will likely be nothing more to the event.
If the situation gets worse, then the paradigm shifts into a dire scenario that will involve more drastic measures such as search and seizure, suspension of habeas corpus, replacement of civilian laws, and imposed curfews.
A search and seizure can come in a variety of forms. First, the government would have designated certain items such as drugs, alcohol, and weapons to be prohibited from owning by the civilian populace.
There would likely be an amnesty period in which all citizens can turn in their prohibited items without fear of suffering any sort of repercussions. Once the amnesty window has passed, the government would then authorize to seize any prohibited items that were found during a search.
Searches would be normally be conducted a traffic control point rather than going home to home. Soldiers would search vehicles and personal before they would allow a traveler to move through their checkpoint similar to the types of inspections encountered when crossing into an another country.
If they find a prohibited item, the owner, and any passengers will be detained though since this is beyond the amnesty period it is likely that they will be denied the right to habeas corpus.
Habeas corpus, the right to a fair and speedy trial, is one of the bedrocks of the United States Judicial system. During martial law, this right becomes too much of an inconvenience to a government who wants absolute power over their citizens.
It is likely that perceived offenders will be held for weeks or months without even being told what they are charged with. This creates a much larger risk to an individual because it is no longer necessary for the government to have probability when they want to get rid of someone that they deem as a troublemaker.
Early targets will likely be firearm owners, veterans, conservatives, and anyone who has been critical of the government and their action.
These types of people symbolize a giant risk to the rule of the government because they either have the skill, resources, and charisma to lead a rebellion against a tyrannical government. Truthfully, it will not even matter if they are for or against the occupation.
The government will act first and ask questions once you are bound and gagged. With the elimination of basic judicial rights, there will be little that you can do if you wait to act once you are already in custody.
In addition to the threat that they represent, there are official government resources that keep track of these types of people such as firearm registries, service records, voting records, and the proliferation of the Internet.
During martial law, the government will respond swiftly to those who have the ability to topple their power. The only two options are to abstain from any behavior that could draw their eye or to effectively hide both before and after martial law is declared.
While it will be impossible to know exactly when this next element will take place, though it is likely already occurring, the government will monitor and restrict access to communication.
Cell phones, television, radio, and the Internet will all be taken from the private sector and be given to the government as they will serve as, “temporary,” custodians of this valuable information infrastructure.
It is likely that the Internet will be completely disabled in the event of total martial law because it is too easy to transmit seditious ideas, images, and videos through social media.
In addition, they know that if they can keep the populace isolated that it will be much easier to control. This will create a restriction on access to cell phone service, though it is likely that it will not be completely eliminated.
The government will want to keep individuals on their devices so they can track their movements, so it is possible that censorship will reign during martial law.
Finally, once the government has collected a large number of detainees, they will construct camps that will be little better than prisons. Abuse and starvation will flourish because these people will be presented as the reason why the government has taken over.
Propaganda will turn the rest of the population against the people that the government has chosen for scapegoats until they have effectively convinced the world of their guilt even if it was something as simple as exercising their first amendment rights.
Life Under Martial Law
It’s difficult to predict how martial law will affect your daily routine and efforts to survive, but we’ll go over some probable realities so that you may be better prepared for dealing with it.
Under martial law, as under normal law enforcement in kinder times, you may face no more practical restriction or interference from authority than you do now.
Cops that you see on your day to day travels may be replaced or supplemented by uniformed soldiers, but that could be it.
At its most invasive extreme, you could be imprisoned if you do anything other than obey the regulations imposed on you to the letter, with no hope of appeal.
Practical problems citizens can expect to crop up include the inability to leave town or travel freely, difficulty in locating or communicating with family or friends, or the freedom to interact with or help anyone who is in need.
If you are in a deteriorating living arrangement or facing any other time- or location-sensitive issue, the trouble should be apparent: you may have to risk punitive action in order to solve your problem.
Remind yourself that it’s not out of the question that you’ll be shot if you try to sneak or force your way past a checkpoint or are discovered in a restricted zone during really tense times.
If invoked, martial law is expected to suspend most or all civil rights for an extended period. Inspections of individuals, cars, and homes may be random or systematic and will become standard practice for the duration.
Possessions, including real property, may be seized. Banned items will be strictly prohibited. Do not expect that you may not lawfully possess a gun any longer if you have one.
Your movements will be restricted, perhaps severely, and you will likely be prohibited from assembling in groups of more than a few people.
You will be obligated to comply with the orders of any member of the military or any other law enforcement personnel at the instant. Any transgression or resistance, however minor, may result in you being detained.
Serious misbehavior or any action construed as aggressive may be met with deadly force in return. If detained under martial law, expect to receive no legal representation or even a hearing before a military tribunal for any offenses real or perceived.
You will be incarcerated indefinitely to ensure that you don’t cause any more problems or generally make things harder on the military.
The manner in which martial law was imposed may or may not influence the sort of treatment you receive from military personnel. For instance, any suspicious or overtly aggressive behavior would be swiftly and harshly dealt with in the aftermath of a terror attack.
By contrast, if declared following a fairly mundane but devastating disaster you’ll most likely observe more lax enforcement.
Would Soldiers Fire on U.S. Civilians?
Citizens are right to be concerned about the ethical “horizon” that will likely be crossed when soldiers are deployed against their fellow citizens.
This is because history has shown time and time again that such events rarely end well for the citizens! In a crisis where the prescribed resolution is lethal force, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not “our” military personnel would follow orders to harm innocent people in any quantity.
One line of reasoning leads us to think these soldiers would have no problem following orders since they’ve been trained accordingly.
Another postulates that, despite their rigorous training, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines would never act that way because they ultimately serve to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
I believe the best answer is “maybe they would, maybe they wouldn’t.” Military personnel are trained and expected to obey their superiors’ orders instantly and without hesitation.
Consider too that they are well aware that disobeying any “lawful” order would be so out of line that it could result in punitive action against themselves.
I believe most serving personnel will comply with orders to enforce martial law when the time comes as the necessities of the situation will be impressed upon them in no uncertain terms.
The first would be persuading service personnel that martial law is necessary and reasonable in order to prevent further devastation and loss of life from any source.
The notion that martial law is “necessary for national security” or “restoring order and stability” will not trouble most, since they will believe it is a worthy enough goal that it will not bother their consciences. It also plays on the genuine notion most have to “protect” people, or at least the concept of the “U.S.”
Second, according to the laws of the land, martial law is lawful if it is lawfully enabled. With the right precipitating event, most members of the armed forces would carry out their orders as just another part of their job handed down legally by their lawful superiors.
However novel or unnerving the situation might be, there will not be any major “red flags” that would have them questioning the legality of their orders until it was too late.
Lastly, it is a lot easier to shoot someone when you think they are going to kill you or kill one of your buddies. In any situation where tension was at a high point and a real or perceived threat showed itself, training would certainly take over and result in the application of lethal force.
One thing would lead to another, and it does not take much imagination to see how a small mishap could turn into a bloody clash, spiraling out of control into an “us vs. them” mentality for the duration afterward.
A Terrible New Era in American History
Ultimately, martial law may not be about establishing order. It is about establishing power. The federal government has swelled to the point in which they believe that they are entitled to every facet of our lives.
The word, “rights,” means nothing if they prohibit them from pursuing their agenda. While many of lower-level officials do not want to harm or subjugate their fellow countryman, the government is fantastic at altering the minds of the populace through the media.
In the event of martial law, a smart prepper will not stay to become a prisoner in a camp. We will use our skills to protect ourselves and our loved ones from a country that will have failed us.
The best way to survive a total domestic military occupation without losing your spine is to be prepared well before it ever happens. Have your bug-out bag ready, and watch for the signs. By the time the government announces that you are under martial law, it will likely be too late.
My name is Steven Capps, and I am currently serving as an Infantry Sergeant in the U.S. Army National Guard. Don’t imagine some badass, because I’m far from it. If the skinny kid from Superbad (Michael Cerra Google tells me) played an NCO in Saving Private Ryan, you’d get SGT Capps. I have a B.A. in English: Writing from the American Military University and have been published in Fiction, The Bird & Dog, and been awarded an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.