The president declared a national emergency, deployed thousands of National Guard troops around the U.S. and 158 million Americans are under orders to self-quarantine, self-isolate or shelter-in-place to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Viral social media posts and videos claim that martial law is imminent — bogus reports that are being pushed in some cases by people who sell emergency and survivalist products, FactCheck.org reported.
Martial hasn’t been used aggressively at a state level since Southern governors invoked it in the 1950s and 1960s to quell racial unrest, NBC New York, reported. The chances of that happening again, as of now, appear remote, NBC predicted.
Others predict the opposite. President Donald Trump will pivot toward martial law — that’s the prediction of Robert Kuttner, a professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School and co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect.
“He’s always wanted to be a full-on dictator. The virus gives him his opening,” Kuttner wrote. “With Trump, you get the worst of both worlds—the dictatorial swagger without the competence. As incompetent as he is, he will take credit for the public-health bureaucracy he has savaged.”
Kuttner described the coronavirus epidemic as “payback for cascading policy failures … Many sick people don’t seek medical help because they lack health insurance,” he wrote. “The coronavirus is especially insidious in that respect because its early symptoms resemble cold or flu. And 40 percent of people in the service sector don’t have paid sick days.”
So what is martial law and what happens if it is declared? Martial law replaces civil rule with temporary military authority during a time of crisis, according to Military Times. Imposing it is rare but it has come into play in times of war, natural disasters and civic disputes. Under martial law, “certain civil liberties may be suspended, such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom of association, and freedom of movement. And the writ of habeas corpus (the right to a trial before imprisonment) may be suspended,” according to a legal journal.
The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11. Trump declared a national emergency the next day. He mobilized the National Guard on March 22 in Washington, California and New York — three states hit hard by COVID-19 — to help with everything from setting up medical tents to distributing food.
On Facebook, a site called Alternative Media Television advertised an online store selling “emergency survival” gear and “emergency preparedness” food supplies, FactCheck.org reported. The group recently warned its 145,000-plus followers, “STORM IS COMING TO AMERICA!!!! MARTIAL LAW NEXT 24 HOURS!!!!!!”
“This is, basically, martial law,” said conspiracy theorist, David Zublick, who sells goods online for doomsday preppers on his website and YouTube channel.
On March 23, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “To be clear, this is not a move toward martial law, as some have erroneously claimed.”
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Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, misspelling “martial law,” tweeted, “Please stop spreading stupid rumors about marshall law. COMPLETELY FALSE. We will continue to see closings & restrictions on hours of non-essential businesses in certain cities & states. But that is NOT marshall law.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that martial law was not necessary in his state to combat coronavirus.
No president has ever used martial law in response to a health epidemic before. While much of the coronavirus response falls under the purview of federal government, “(enforcing) laws relating to public health and safety falls squarely within the powers of the states under the Tenth Amendment,” The Atlantic reported.