How to Prepare For and Survive Martial Law

Martial Law is by far one of the biggest nightmares we could face, one that’s keeping many preppers awake at night.

man on top of tank

This is because it can happen in the aftermath of any number of natural or man-made disasters (see list below). In other words, if it’s happening, the country is in so much trouble that even the Government can’t handle it.

Now I’m assuming that Martial Law hasn’t happened yet, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to read this. Good. This means you have time to prepare for it and I hope, for your sake, that you do it quickly.

What Is Martial Law?

Although the Supreme Court said that this term doesn’t have a precise meaning, let’s see if we can come up with a definition.

Martial law is, in short, the suspension of ordinary law, the Constitution, the Government, the legislative and even the judicial system. These laws are replaced with a strict, military dictatorship in times of emergency or civil unrest, when the current Government is unable to do its job.

In addition, a number of liberties are suspended, including the right to a fair trial and the right to free speech.

Not just in America, because it can happen anywhere in the world. Martial Law is the suspension of the Constitution and the placement of a military officer in charge of the Government in times when the 3 separated powers fail to function correctly. This could be for any number of reasons such as:

  • war,
  • a WMD attack,
  • a foreign invasion,
  • a devastating disaster such as a hurricane or Yellowstone erupting,
  • civil war
  • even a coup d’état.

There are, in fact, two types of martial law, on a national level (the most dreaded scenario) or localized, in case of a destructive event that only affects part of the country.

Has Martial Law ever been declared in the U.S.? This may come as a surprise but the answer is “yes”. According to Wikipedia, there was martial law:

  • in 1773, after the Boston Tea Party,
  • during the war of 1812,
  • in 1863,
  • in 1871, during the great Chicago fire,
  • in 1892, 1906, 1914, 1920, 1921, 1934,
  • in 1941 to 1944 in Hawaii,
  • in 1961
  • and, last but not least, the most recent one was in 2005 during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans (although, according to other sources, the term “martial law” doesn’t exist in the Louisiana Law).

Let’s not forget, however, that the term “martial law” has no precise meaning so the name and the idea of “martial law” are controversial to say the least.

Speaking of which, sometimes, our beloved leaders prefer to declare a state of emergency instead of martial law. Don’t be fooled.

They only reason they would do this would be to stop panic from spreading as the words “state of emergency” have a nicer ring to them. 🙂

Can Martial Law Be Useful?

Yes it can. When SHTF, most people will be unprepared and someone has to keep them under control. However, whether or not the Government can successfully do that with or without Martial Law, that’s another story.

Is It Close? When Will Martial Law be Declared?

As with any disaster, there’s always a small chance of it happening and no one knows the exact date it will happen. Most preppers expect it at some point so, although it’s hard to calculate the odds of it happening, it’s better to just prepare.

I can’t give you percentages but what I can give you are reasons this could happen at any time:

  • The US has many enemies outside its borders: North Korea and Russia, Al-Qaeda, and so on because it has made a habit of sticking its nose into other countries’ business.
  • Some of these enemies are trying to establish base camps on U.S. soil and even to recruit U.S. citizens to fight their wars.
  • The politicians are either corrupt or incompetent. This reason alone should convince a lot of people to start prepping.
  • Martial Law can be used by the president as an excuse to do whatever he wants when he really has no other option to reach his goals.
  • A number of executive orders have been passed in recent years that are scary to say the least. One of them (13603) gives unprecedented power to the president over your resources.

The truth is, people have been expecting Martial Law in America for a long time, and although it hasn’t come yet, a lot of people, myself included, still think it’s very likely to happen.

I’m going to tell you my personal reason why I think this is possible, even likely. Can you remember examples of wars or fights in human history that were won by the underdog?

I sure as heck can. Lots of them. ISIS, Al-Qaeda, are growing and Russia has the same military force as the U.S.

So if the parties that were thought to have the second chance have won quite a few battles in history, why can’t history repeat itself? It can.

Who Can Declare It, Anyway?

Martial law can be declared by either the President or the Congress of the United States, but localized Martial Law can be declared by the Governor.

What Would Life Be Like Under Martial Law?

It’s not that hard to imagine what Martial Law would look like. Life would definitely be tough. I have never lived under martial law but I did spend the first 5 years of my life under a communist regime in Eastern Europe.

What I can tell you, even though I don’t remember that much, is that life is tough.

However, since most people lived their whole lives like that, it was all normal to them. To you, it may not be so because you’re used to modern day conveniences.

Let me paint a picture for you on what things might look like:

Groups of armed men will patrol the streets, even during the day.

Your guns will probably be confiscated unless you hide them really well.

Food, water, and other resources can also be confiscated and you won’t be allowed to stockpile them anymore.

If you want to get food or water in a city, you might have to spend hours and hours in line for a loaf of bread (my dad used to wake up at 3-4 AM to get milk under communist Romania and he was in the military so he didn’t get any special treatment).

Expect sky-high inflation. The U.S. debt has been out of control for some time and under Martial Law, everyone will get rid of their dollars like they’re contaminated.

Any vehicle can be stopped or seized at any time.

Health is going to be a huge issue. With no running water for most people, rats and cockroaches will multiply and cause disease.

News will travel slow. Plus, a lot of it is going to be false. A good rule of thumb is to never believe something you  hear while under Martial Law unless you’ve seen it with your own eyes or there’s a gun pointing at your head.

Suspension of habeas corpus.

You won’t have a right to a fair trial anymore. If you do something wrong, even if it’s with the sole purpose to defend yourself and your family, you will be judged by a military court.

Free press will be gone, and so will freedom of speech.

You can expect armed checkpoints to be set up, even in small towns.

If you’re a rioter, a troublemaker, or even a potential suspect, you can expect to have “talks” with the militia or people form the military. You might also be forbidden to leave town even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

A lot of “average” people will be spies. This was a big deal under communist Romania. After the regime ended, many high-ranked politicians, writers, and artists accused each-other of being spies.

Expect rationing of electricity, hot water, and even TV air time. I lived to see it. I also estimate that free Internet will be a thing of the past.

You can expect to lose your home. In 1950, a number of hotels and homes were suddenly passed as belonging to “the people” with no compensation for their current owners whatsoever. This was happening in communist Romania, my country of birth.

As I’m writing this article, there are still dozens of thousands of trials started by homeowners or their descendants to get them back. It’s 65 years after they were robbed of their goods and 25 years since the communist regime has fallen and they still haven’t got them back.

Even though YOU may not heave means of communication, you can expect the military ruling to. They’ll obviously have a chain of command and some level of organization.

If you think you and your neighbors can stand against them to defend your liberties, I suggest you think this through really well. Read more on the realities of Martial Law here.

Some people want to survive martial law, others are willing to die for their liberties. The choice is yours, but please don’t be upset or patronize those who don’t make the same choice as you. We’re all in this together.

How to Prepare for Martial Law

So what can you do to prepare? Let’s take it one step at a time.

Step #1: Become a Prepper

Stock up on food, water, medicine, tools, guns, and gear. Learn survival skills and practice them before it happens. I wrote a comprehensive article on what a beginner prepper should do right here.

You should also review this emergency list to make sure you’re not missing any vital items.

cans of peanut butter on pantry shelves
cans of peanut butter on pantry shelves

Here are the main aspects to get handled if you’re going to survive martial law:

  1. Shelter. You need a safe place to stay. A reinforced home, a bug out location, and even a tent or a tarp to be able to build shelter out in the wilderness.
  2. Food. For yourself, for your family, for your pets. The more the better.
  3. Water.
  4. Medicine. Keep in mind any medical conditions you or your family members may have.
  5. Gear.
  6. Guns and ammo.
  7. Your fitness levels. You need to be strong and in shape.
  8. Skill. Starting a fire.
  9. Drills. You need to practice evacuating your home, bugging out, etc.

Step #2: Trust No One

When martial law is in order, you can bet anything that a lot of groups will impersonate the military or law enforcement officers, or even try to take over the community and become the law.

This is very likely to happen when, as us preppers like to say, in a WROL (Without the Rule of Law) post-disaster situation, when there’s going to be a lot of chaos and confusion.

Step #3: You Will Either Fight or Flight

When the time comes, you’ll be faced with possibly the hardest decision of your life. You’ll either bug in or out, waiting for the dust to settle, or you’ll fight for your country and your liberties.

Now, I’m not going to tell you which one of these options is best for you. There’s an ongoing debate about this with a lot of pros and cons on both sides.

The point I’m trying to make is that you need to make a decision and then follow through with it when the time comes. Whatever your decision is, it has to be crystal clear.

Step #4: Birds of a Feather Flock Together

When it’s on, it’s going to be you and the patriots in your community against them. But if you want to count on their help when it happens, you need to make friends with them right now.

You can even make war plans with them if you want, this will ensure that you’re ready to defend your turf once Martial Law hits and various factions try to invade your territory.

If possible, do hold regular meetings to better organize and prepare. Figure out your combined set of skills (medical, woodworking, guns, gardening etc.) and see if any of them are missing (you can find a full list of skills here).

What you need to do is develop a veritable survival dream team from your family members and your prepper friends but beware of betrayal.

You just never know when someone is a double agent or when they will simply want to take charge when the timing is right.

Step #5: Avoid “Concentration” Camps

If you read the news when Katrina happened, you couldn’t have missed the reports about the Louisiana Superdome that was used as shelter for over 20,000 people.

You see, even though the Superdome was built to withstand these kinds of emergencies, the structure itself wasn’t the problem.

The problem was the people inside and the conditions they had to live in. I’ll leave you with a few quotes to realize what it would mean to be forcibly taken inside military or governmental makeshift shelters:

There is feces on the walls. There is feces all over the place.

Bryan Hebert, 43

The soldiers are looking more anxious. “People will go crazy and attack you!” they say. The girls spend the night huddled together, surrounded by a ring of guys. Two of them stay awake and break chairs to use the metal poles as weapons. I can’t believe it has come to this.

We don’t know how much longer we can hold on. The game plan now is to squeeze everything we can out of the Superdome and then get out.

I could go on and on with these but you get the point. If you end up in one of these camps that are allegedly there to keep you safe, you can expect to have no food, no water, no guns, and no security.

The solution? You either stay and defend your turf or you bug out at the first sign of martial law. Heck, even if things don’t look that bad you should still bug out if you’re going, otherwise it might be too late.

Step #6: Become a Gray Man

In short, you need to keep a low profile to avoid exposing yourself, your family, your guns, and your preps. This also implies that you keep your mouth shut at all times.

Never give up any piece of information unless it’s to save your skin or that of your family.

When Martial Law is the only “law”, all walls have ears. And don’t expect to have just one enemy trying to invade your privacy.

Your neighbor, a survival dream team member, the Government, they’ll all compete to find out what you’re up to.

Understand the “Players” during Martial Law

If your take on martial law is “soldiers” performing law enforcement duties in civilian spaces, you will be only half-right.

While this is undoubtedly true, there are going to be more than two factions at play and plotting during a serious declaration of martial law. It is in your best interest to familiarize yourself with these broad factions prior to experiencing it for yourself.

Troops are official, uniformed government soldiers who do the bulk of the work. Setting up checkpoints, violating rights, and generally doing whatever their superiors ask of them.

They might be from the standing armed forces or a paramilitary arm created by the government for just such an occasion. Typical police also fit here under the circumstances.

Freedom fighters, patriots, or resistance actors are groups or individuals that engage in acts of petty or grand defiance, mischief and generally causing trouble for the powers that be.

They may even be legitimate fighters opposed to the new status quo. Whatever their goals, they may or may not make life harder for you.

Criminals during a widespread declaration of martial law will carry on with their normal activities, and they might even expand their operations to take advantage of market gaps created by the situation.

Thieves, kidnappers, smugglers, and the foot soldiers of organized crime will all be seeking to profit in some way during the turmoil that martial law implies.

Civilians are people who are just attempting to survive and cope with the situation. You likely fit into this category.

But be cautious: Just because they don’t have an overarching affiliation does not mean that an Average Joe does not have an agenda.

Desperation and greed can turn otherwise decent individuals into opportunistic and unpredictable predators or snitches who would sell your mother down the river for a ration card.

If you assume that the only people who might ruin your day are uniformed troops or police you’re setting yourself up for a bad time. Non-uniformed fighters and troublemakers can cause issues or single you out for retribution if they think you are contrary to their goals or working with “the gubmint.”

Some rabble rousers will agitate or even harass troops for no other reason than amusement, and the prospect of easing boredom. Others may even be plotting legit attacks against those they see as in the employ of a tyrannical government.

Even among the most well-intentioned and ethical resistance groups, fear and incorrect intel or assumptions might cause them to commit atrocities that you wouldn’t expect from them. It’s impossible to exaggerate the level of tension and fear that living under martial law can create.

The human mind is malleable and fallible under such pressures and accordingly you must always think carefully before committing yourself to an ideology for short-term benefit.

You’ll also have to watch out for the criminal element as well as troops and zealous patriots.

From opportunistic individual crooks to hometown gangs, major criminal organizations, and even international crime syndicates, each and every criminal will be scrambling to somehow profit from the declaration of martial law.

Crime invariably rises whenever a government locks down a populace, and this will be no exception. Smuggling, drug sales, extortion, protection racketeering, and even assassination will all be on the table for made men and young guns alike.

Depending on the severity of the supply situation, it might be criminal actors who remain able to supply you with the things you need for the duration, as unsavory as that sounds.

It’s difficult to live in any environment where you’re constantly on edge, always looking over your shoulder and being surveilled 24/7.

And as sad as it is to contemplate, having to protect yourself and your interests from fellow citizens- neighbors, coworkers, friends- that is exactly what you might have to do.

Stress, lack, anger and suffering breed resentment and desperation. Desperate individuals may act in ways you would never expect.

When someone is stressed out of their mind, starving or sick they might turn on their fellows or break faith in order to get what they want. Watch your back, and keep your business to yourself.

It Can Be Dangerous to Be Alone During Martial Law

Stay in small groups of 2-4. Even a small group has a significant edge in safety over an individual during martial law. Only a group can provide you with the redundancy and backup you require to reduce the dangers inherent in a civil war.

Stick with known, trusted associates.  You may have a ready and capable group for the duration of the declaration among your own family or circle of friends, or you might not.

Lacking these close bonds of kith and kin, you could rely on a group that was entirely manufactured, such as a prepper network or mutual assistance group.

Make sure you have enough supplies. Despite the many benefits a group will provide you, more people will always require more supplies.

You must take care of each-other because you won’t be able to count on anyone else under martial law. Make sure you have enough communal goods on hand to meet everyone’s needs.

The family, or tribe, is the fundamental unit of humanity. Individuals seldom flourish and rarely survive long in periods of severe difficulty.

Your group can assist you while you sleep, help you transport vital cargo, vouch for your whereabouts, provide a safe haven, search for supplies, cover for you if you get sick.

The only reason your people will care for you is because they know that, if the situations were reversed, you’d do the same for them.

For the most part, our family and closest friends will be the most fundamental and readily accessible people to us under martial law.

You might also get help from people in your network, such as coworkers, neighbors, and friends. From the personal to the comfortable, everyone in these categories has a degree of mutual trust with us.

We may not be able to do without certain individuals within the group, even though some people will only be able to provide a little or nothing at all to the group’s interest.

Others will be valuable assets, offering specialized knowledge, resources, or property that might come in useful when martial law tightens its grip on society and commerce.

Apart from family, friends, and neighbors, you might consider establishing a survival group ahead of time.

Known as MAGs, or Mutual Assistance Groups, these dedicated groups or co-ops are made up of preppers who plan to help each other endure together by relying on the skills and resources of one another.

All for one, and one for all! Members of a MAG may be expected to provide assistance, material aid or both depending on the group bylaws and can vary significantly.

During any declaration of martial law, any MAG should consider establishing a network of safe havens or “stops” for known members.

This can provide significant comfort since members will know they have a “port in a storm” if their own homes are seized or destroyed, or their hometowns is cutoff for a time.

Humvee tactical vehicles

Moving Around Under Martial Law

Stay off the main roads if you can. Large and frequently traveled thoroughfares are likely to face the most restriction in terms of checkpoints, surveillance, and possible closure. To move about with greater safety and certainty, use less frequented or even unknown paths.

Travel in a small group. It’s not a good idea to go alone. Bring at least one other person with you, if possible, and up to three or four, total. You will be more vulnerable if you go alone. Take car that you do not appear as a “unit” of people ready or capable of causing trouble.

Time your travels to coincide with periods of calm. If you have a choice, do not move about while troops are on high alert or conflicts actively underway. Nervous troopers might shoot first and ask questions later.

Travel when it will raise the least suspicion. Depending on the location, who is in it and what the current rules are, you might move around in the morning and evening, or go forth any time of day or night. You want to move when it is normal to the area and expected by troops.

Take great caution in cities. Cities offer greater obstacles than most other places during martial law. Checkpoints will be around every corner and heavily manned.

Checkpoints may also be outside of cities. The two groups of Ukrainian refugees that I transported from one of the borders they arrived at confirmed that during their journey across their war-torn country, they were stopped by Ukrainian soldiers almost every mile.

This meant for them that a journey that shouldn’t have taken more than a few hours took, in fact, a few days.

Even though it was their own military doing the checks, they had to be sure there were no Russian saboteurs roaming around freely, or that Ukrainian men didn’t try to leave the country.

Why? Simply because during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Martial law mean that all abled-bodied men were required by law to stay within the country and fight.

Now, city traffic will be exacerbated to an extreme degree, while other parts, especially after the mass exodus, would remain completely empty.

Neither scenario means you’re safe. You will need to exercise caution in cities if you don’t want to be stopped and detained.

When you are compelled by circumstances or simply bad luck to traverse or pass through a sensitive area, you should be on high alert at all times.

You will encounter plenty of troops and checkpoints, and should you appear suspicious and appear to be going the wrong way, avoiding inspection or just looking for trouble, you could be shot as a justified precaution.

On foot or in a vehicle, never move about carelessly unless you are in an area that is truly placid. Even then, watch yourself.

Always try to travel in a small group wherever you go. If you are injured, detained, or kidnapped, having at least one other person with you and preferably three or four more will help you avoid an unpleasant fate.

At the very least, they can vet for you or relay news of what has happened to your loved ones.

As Ukrainian refugees told me themselves, travelling in large groups is dangerous, and you can get shot at. This makes evacuation much harder than if it’s just you and possibly another person.

Despite this necessity, be careful of seeming too much like a “squad” or “unit”. Look like “terrorists” and you’ll probably be treated accordingly. 

It’ll also be important to time your movements carefully. If troops are tense and on high alert, wait until all the commotion is over before you travel if you don’t want to get detained or shot.

Consider whether you should travel during the morning, day, evening or at night depending on the usual traffic pattern in your area and at your destination. 

Finally, take great care when choosing routes. Any road that is wide and fast, and able to support heavy vehicles, is almost certainly going to be checkpointed around the clock.

Depending on the defensive condition of the troops, this might make traveling on major roads and highways in and around population centers time-consuming and even dangerous.

Even if the area is known for calm, order and safety under the circumstances, passing through security checks and having your person, possessions and vehicle searched will eventually result in detainment and perhaps even imprisonment if you are discovered to be carrying anything decided to be “contraband.”

Prep For Martial Law Today

When things are starting to go down, they will go down without notice. That’s when you have to act fast and bug in our out, depending on your circumstances.

Keep in mind martial law is not like a state of emergency, which is basically a walk in the park. Your rights will be suspended. Law enforcement could knock at your door and demand that you go with them. And this could last weeks, probably even months.

Probably the best thing you can do is lay low. The less human interaction, the better. A safe retreat, lots of supplies, weapons, your family – that’s all you need to survive.

pdf icon

You can get this quick reference PDF that you can print out and check out each item as you go through it here. Oh, and be sure to pin this for later on your favorite Pinterest board!

how to prepare for and survive martial law pinterest

8 thoughts on “How to Prepare For and Survive Martial Law”

  1. Localized Martial Law was also declared in 1963 during the Watts Riots, and in the riots of 1968, after the assassination of MLK.

    I remember factions of the 82nd Airborne being bivouacked at a school outside of Washington D.C., they were used, along with the National Guard to quell the violence in D.C.

  2. Suzanne Graziano

    Thank you for this interesting information. Things most people don’t know or have never experienced. Although everything seems to be upside down, using Martial Law would be extreme. The majority of us are good, honest, decent human beings and really don’t deserve such action. It would definitely change the way we feel about our country. The President said we’re doing great in our country now, so if this is correct, why use Martial Law? God help us! The elderly like myself would find much difficulty in this situation and may not survive. Not good! Many of us are on prescribed medications in which they only offer a 90 day supply, what happens after that? This does not help the American people who depend on medication to survive. Only the young, healthy and wealthy will survive. The rest of us may perish all because of grown children playing politics with our lives puting us in danger. Whats the point? Who are any of them kidding? Sad state of affairs if you ask me.

    1. It sure is a sad state of affairs. The time may be upon us, get ready now. One way to get off meds is a healthy diet, not the one the government tells you about, but the one that actually works (vegan). It may be the hardest thing to swallow, but it works. Look into food as medicine. Be safe and prepare now, looks like hard times are coming.

      1. Vegan is not a healthy diet. You will not find vegan Olympic athletes because you will lose muscle mass. The few people who claimed to be vegan and were top level athletes were found to be lying and caught eating meat on the side.

  3. James Brigham (Bigg) Bunyon

    I hear a lot about “bugging out”. Bug out? Why do that? All our emergency stuff (and there is a LOT of it) is right here. And yet some mall Ninja operator type thinks I should pack up a knapsack with less than 1% of our supplies and go run around in the woods? Nope, don’t think so. Only an toy soldier would advocate leaving and playing militia in the forest. Give these runarounds two weeks and they’ll all be trying to sneak back home to a ransacked house when mama’s PB&J sandwiches are gone and they’re bleeding from lack of toilet paper.

  4. One of the things you warned about was a national I.D. card. It’s now happening. You are now being told to get a special type of driver’s license or state issued I.D . A new federal law is going into effect later on this year. If you don’t have the new I.D. card; you won’t be able to fly on an airline flight. The law was proposed by A G.O.P. President and Congress. The security checks we go through at airports was also implemented during a G.O.P. presidency. Have you ever heard on the news that a terrorist plot was stopped by a T.S.A inspector? What if a terrorist Drives to a city to commit a bombing?
    We now have a G.O.P. president and a G.O.P. controlled Congress. They have implemented travel restrictions on certain religious groups legally travelling to the U.S. . Has any news stories been reported that those restrictions have made us safer? What you’ve described is happening right now. So why hasn’t anyone said anything about it?

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