After decrying governors and mayors under assault from rioters as “weak” this morning, President Trump announced in a brief speech on Monday afternoon that he would use a 200-year old law to deploy the military against the rioters if states were not able to take control of the situation.
Speaking from the Rose Garden, the president said:
I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers, that we dominate the streets, mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled. If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.
The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the use of the US military for domestic law enforcement but the Insurrection Act of 1807 allows the president to “call forth the militia” to assist state governments “in all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws.” After Hurricane Katrina, the law was amended to allow federal troops to be used in epidemics, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and other emergencies.
The Insurrection Act was invoked most recently in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots in the aftermath of the acquittal of four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. Federal troops were also used under the act to provide assistance after Hurricane Hugo struck South Carolina in 1989. The Act was also invoked during the 1960s Civil Rights era.
it is not clear whether it is legal for the president to order federal military intervention if the states do not request it, which, so far, no states have done. A 2019 discussion of the Insurrection Act in The Atlantic held that the current form of the law allows the president to make a determination that ordinary law enforcement is not adequate to enforce federal law and deploy the military to assist.
The president’s decision to put the use of federal troops on the table to quell the riots raises the stakes and may also raise the temperature of the situation. The protests and riots have spread around the country over the past week and show no signs of abating, but the unilateral decision to send in the military will be controversial and will spark yet another debate about President Trump’s use of his executive powers.
The president also proclaimed himself “your president of law and order” and said that he was an “ally of all peaceful protesters.”
President Trump said that the biggest victims of the riots were peaceful residents of poor communities and charged that the violence was due to “professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others.”