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Troops in the Streets? The Use of the US Military Domestically

June 4, 2020

Episode Notes:

On Monday night, President Donald Trump announced that he was invoking the terms of the Insurrection Act of 1807 to authorize federal troops to help restore order in response to more than a week of protests that erupted after the most recent killing of an unarmed black man by police, in this case the slaying of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.  Immediately prior to the President’s remarks, riot police, some carrying shields emblazoned with the words “Military Police,” violently broke up a peaceful demonstration in Lafayette Park, across from the White House so that the President could visit St. John’s church for a photo opportunity.  The President’s announcement that he was invoking a centuries-old law to call up military forces to restore civil order has raised questions about the use of military forces—National Guard, or active duty—for domestic law enforcement.

To help us better understand the laws and regulations surrounding the domestic use of the military for law enforcement and restoring order, we are joined by Professor Lindsay Cohn of the US Naval War College.  Dr. Cohn's research and publications focus on military organizations, civil-military relations, international law of war, and foreign policy/public opinion. Dr. Cohn is speaking in a personal capacity, and her views should not be considered to represent those of the Department of Defense, the Navy, or the Naval War College.  Listeners can follow her on Twitter at @lindsaypcohn



[ 02:05 ] Some commenters have suggested that the President’s call to use federal military forces for domestic law enforcement is akin to martial law.  How is martial law different from what the President has described?


[ 04:08 ] What is the Insurrection Act and what authority does it give the President regarding the use of the military for law enforcement?


[ 06:51 ] How is this related to Posse Comitatus? Do DoD regulations about law enforcement change when operating under an authorizing statute such as the Insurrection Act (or the Stafford Act)?


[ 10:00 ] What types of military forces may be involved in law enforcement, who do they work for, and what authorities do they have?


[ 13:29 ] Even in instances where the military is authorized to conduct law enforcement, such as the 1992 LA riots, they have often shown an institutional reluctance to do so.  Why is that?  Do you foresee a similar response here?

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