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Martial Law in the U.S.: Conspiracy theory or reasonable to discuss?

By       Message Frank Murphy       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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The talk of "martial law" coming to the United States is quite the rave on conspiracy theory websites and message boards.  The major event that provoked these discussions is an Army Times article indicating that the 3rd Infantry’s First Brigade would begin a tour of the continental U.S. commencing on October 1, 2008 and lasting for a full year.  [Active duty units were previously deployed to states impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005].  What is unique here?

This is the first time an active regiment has been assigned under control of the Northern Command (NorthCom at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado). However, the regiment will be physically located at Fort Stewart in Georgia (the largest base east of the Mississippi).  What is so exceptional about this event?

According to the Army Times, “They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.”

The euphemisms “civil unrest” and “crowd control” are typically known as “riots” and handled by civilian law enforcement agencies (state and local police).  Thus, it seems that the Posse Comitatus  Act of 1878 may be violated in the event that this brigade is “called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.”  The key word here is “help.”  How will they “help with civil unrest and crowd control”?  The article goes on to quote the commander of the brigade saying:

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“The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.”

While we may not know for sure all of what is included in “the first ever nonlethal package”, one possibility is Raytheon’s Silent Guardian Active Denial System may see its first use.  The Raytheon Corporation has a brochure and in one of the pictures it appears as if this device is intended for dealing with protestors in the West where a caption reads, “Various applications for law enforcement, facility protection and homeland security.”

A correction was printed by the Army Times as this story spread across the internet stating, “A non-lethal crowd control package fielded to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, described in the original version of this story, is intended for use on deployments to the war zone, not in the U.S., as previously stated.”

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If the brigade is uniquely being trained, at this juncture, for events in the U.S., then why would an element of their training that is “intended for use on deployments to the war zone, not in the U.S.,” be so remarkable to the writer of the article if the subject of the article is this unique new mission being given to this regiment?  If it is “intended” for use in the war zone, is it still possible that the “non-lethal crowd control package” could be used in the U.S. in the event of an emergency?  This is possible, but we do not have any hard data to say so unless such an event actually happens or a law is passed indicating that such is legal. 

Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, got a conflicting account from a Public Relations officer at NorthCom, when that officer stated that the “non-lethal weapons” would be “containerized.”  This essentially means that in the event of “civil unrest”, the “non-lethal weapons” would be kept within arm’s reach and used as needed.  It would appear that two different military entities are not on the same page with respect to the question of whether or not “the first ever non-lethal package that the Army has fielded” could be used for domestic civil unrest in the U.S. 

Another possibility is that the military could supply the “containerized”, “non-lethal package” (Silent Guardian?) to members of local law enforcement.  Christian Parenti, in his book Lockdown America (Verso Press, 1999) has noted the vast transfer of training and technology to domestic police from the military.

But what other remarkable events have taken place recently that may indicate something out of the ordinary?  Nearly a year ago (during October 15th-20th, 2007), at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, NorthCom and the Department of Homeland Security conducted an exercise known as “Exercise Vigilant Shield ‘08” was considered by some as a drill that emphasized “martial law.”  We cannot say for sure, because the NORAD summary does not explicitly say that “martial law” was part of the exercises (but there are some vaguely worded parts of the objectives that could be interpreted that way).  Click here.

However, October 1, 2008 is a very interesting day; several events related or not, occurred:

-The 3rd Infantry’s First Brigade began its mission.

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-A little-noticed, yet controversial, Department of Homeland Security Spy Satellite Program went into effect.

-In the Federal Register a vague document intended “to provide targeted liability protections for anthrax countermeasures based on a credible risk that the threat of exposure to Bacillus anthracis and the resulting disease constitutes a public health emergency,” was entered.

-Fort Stewart’s budget was increased from $123.5 million for FY 2008 to $432.3 million (but may this be an election cycle year effect?)

-A 3.9% pay increase for military personnel (but may this be an election year cycle effect?)

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Frank Murphy is a doctoral candidate in sociology at a university in New England whose research interests include racism and political sociology.

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