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Trump to use more than 200-year-old law to allow federal crackdown against civil unrest

Though it is illegal for military forces to be used on US soil as a police force, the president may use an 1807 law to stop a perceived insurrection.

ATLANTA — On Saturday, President Donald Trump said that he was "ready, willing and able, if they ever want to call our military."

Trump made the statement before leaving the White House Saturday afternoon for Florida to watch the SpaceX launch.

He was talking about using military forces in Minnesota to help quell protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd. 

Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd down to the ground by his neck for nearly nine minutes after taking him into custody last Monday. The incident was seen worldwide on video. During the video, Floyd could be heard pleading, "I can't breathe."

In the nights since, protests have expanded from Minneapolis to other cities in all 50 states, leading to an increased police presence in many cities and call-ups of the National Guard in more than 20 states to help keep order. 

In a conference call with the nation's governors on Monday, Trump called many of them weak, saying they should request the U.S. Military Forces to put down civil unrest in their cities. 

RELATED: President Trump slams governors as 'weak,' urges crackdown on protests

However, the use of the armed forces to act as a police power on American soil is actually illegal. It was outlawed by a law enacted in 1878.

The Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385), limits federal powers when it comes to using military personnel to enforce domestic policies inside the United States of America.

A second federal law, the Insurrection Act (10 U.S.C. § 251), was adopted in 1807. That law would permit him to deploy troops under an executive powers act, if there is a determination that an insurrection is taking place, and a governor or state legislature were to request that type of assistance.

RELATED: Trump threatens to deploy US military unless states halt violent protests

Thus far, no governors have requested this type of assistance. They have, instead, relied upon the National Guard, which has been called out in more than 20 states to assist local law enforcement. 

Governors prefer to use the National Guard for these types of functions since they are legally permitted to perform law enforcement duties in the United States. 

RELATED: Real-time updates | Social unrest, demonstrations across metro-Atlanta

The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits active members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, or even the newly created Space Force from intervening in a law enforcement capacity on US soil. 

If Trump were to invoke the Insurrection Act, he would, however, be able to deploy active-duty troops without a request from a governor. In order to do so, the president would have to first issue a proclamation which would "immediately order the 'insurgents' to disperse and retire peaceably to their abodes within a limited time."

The last time that the Insurrection Act has been used was in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, when the move was requested by then-California Gov. Pete Wilson and invoked by President H.W. Bush. Prior to that, it had not been used since the 1960s civil rights era.


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