The National Guard via Wikimedia Commons

President Trump declared the Chinese Wuhan Virus (COVID-19) pandemic a national emergency on March 13. National Guard personnel in over 25 states have already been called up by their Governors to aid efforts to stop the spread. However, as the virus continues to move across the U.S., some lawmakers have begun calling for deeper U.S. military involvement in managing this health crisis. Could this lead to martial law?

“I would call out the military now,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, reports The Hill. “They have the ability to provide this surge that hospitals need. They have the capacity to build 500 hospital beds and tents that are completely safe and secure.”

Others insist that involving the military now would be counterproductive and there is no plan for martial law. This has led to disinformation and confusion.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted, albeit with a glaring spelling error, a request to stop sharing misinformation about martial law. He wrote, “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.”

The reality is there is a wide range, in-between doing nothing and imposing federal martial law, where U.S. military forces, or state-led National Guard units could be employed in support of this national emergency.

And while some are pushing for a more robust federal response short of martial law, including a national quarantine and/or a “lockdown,” the states are far better suited to take emergency actions like these in their jurisdictions.

There’s no U.S. federal authority “to force everybody everywhere to stay home,” says Elizabeth Goitein at the New York University School of Law. “While the federal government has the power to implement quarantines to prevent communicable diseases from entering the country or from spreading between states, state and local quarantine powers can also be quite broad,” Goitein was quoted in Barrons, and quarantine decisions within U.S. borders have generally been left to the states.

On Sunday the National Security Council rejected the idea of a national quarantine.

This is generally the best approach. Rather than imposing a national quarantine, the federal government’s role is more likely to be delivering the message that “as Americans, we all have the responsibility to protect the most vulnerable by limiting our interactions,” Michael Coen, a former chief of staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said in Barrons.

“The American people, when given all the facts and information, will take responsibility,” he says.

If enforcement is required, the National Guard led by their state governors is best suited to handle crises in their individual states. That’s their primary mission. As reported by the Military Times, “the National Guard is expecting a rapid increase in unit activations over the next few weeks, leaders at the Pentagon said Thursday, filling roles like coronavirus testing and potentially law enforcement.”

If the president wanted to, he could mobilize the National Guard under a Title 10 authorities, though Guard leaders aren’t advising that move, said Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau in the Military Times.

“That would not make sense in this situation,” Lengyel said, adding that it’s better to leave Guard units under the command and control of each governor. “Every state has a different way to deal with disasters. … If you were to federalize them, you’d lose some of those abilities.”

One critical capability that would be lost if the Guard is federalized is their ability to operate as law enforcement to assist state officials, Lengyel said, as that would violate the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the Department of Defense from participating in domestic policing. Only the National Guard under state control can conduct domestic policing in their state.

There is one loophole to this domestic military use prohibition – created in 2006 following Hurricane Katrina. As noted by the Military Times, the 2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act gives the president the power to take command of National Guard units under the guise of martial law without the approval of state governors until its expiration a year later. Hopefully, this will not be necessary.

For now, expect the states to be taking the lead in quarantine actions and enforcement, with the federal government providing national guidance and controlling the international and inter-state components of the pandemic. Any troops you may see on the streets will most likely be your state National Guard, as in any other emergency.

Paul Crespo is a defense and national security expert. He served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. He holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. Paul is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and a Contributor to American Defense News.

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  1. Appears that the national guard is being called out b/c of looters – with nearly all businesses shut down and people working from home, who’s watching the shops ???
    Trump is a Very smart man, however, those insurrection groups as ANTIFA are in the crosshairs too which is part of the mobilization of troops.

  2. and the dims are pushing for not enforcing law and letting criminals out of jail because of china virus . Thank goodness for Our 2nd Amendment . And Thank GOD for President Trump , His Family and All who support Him .

  3. If antifa starts their crap this is the perfect time for Trump to have them declared a domestic terrorist body and arrest them and send them to prison. No more messing around with these criminals.

  4. We have already see a form of martial law .The FBI ,Dept. of Justice , FISA court and the Impeachment group in our Congress made an attempt to over-throw an election with the help of the “free press ” !! The MUELLER GROUP was an attack force using legal (???) and questionable methods to gain some proof for the overthrow ..>> We will need to seat a number of Federal Grand Juries (NOT congress) to investigate these actions .>>

  5. We are seeing another bite out of our rights taken under the guise of our protection and safety. Government uses a crisis because the public demands protection and the laws passed in haste are not looked at closely. Many things are slipped by because the public are in panic and willing to accept many things they wouldn’t normally consider. Upon inspection, we could clearly see where government could use it to expand their own powers by removing the constitutional limits. This crisis is not as bad as others but the left will now use any crisis because they have learned to use the diversion tactics and ignorance of people wishing to protect themselves and family. It will be later when a real threat comes they will use the “protection’s” now in place and act quickly because people will now take the time to inspect the laws and realize what government can and will do. at the risk of being redundant I warn the people that will listen to examine what government passes under the guise of “protection”. This nation is prime to set up for government to rule. It cannot do so when we are still armed. The guns must be removed before it can be done. The only way they can do this is with martial law and collect firearms and ammo with the laws designed to protect. This crisis while bad is tested to see just how far they can push it to see how much people will panic. The citizen have become used to having the ability to resupply each week for what they need. We now see their reaction when it is interrupted. Do people take the time and read the actual data collected? No they sit and listen to people that feed them the information that causes more panic that government will use to pass the laws they want that will expand their powers. People that trade their freedoms for small protection deserve neither. Our president walks a fine line knowing he must actually protect the people and allowing the expansion of government powers. Read and know what the dangers actually are. Our ignorance is our greatest danger. ——Grampa

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