Is martial law what we’re heading towards? 

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the United States possibly heading towards martial law. There has also been a lot of questions on what the heck martial law even is! 

It sounds scary. 

There have been demonstrations in regards to the lockdowns due to COVID19. 

There have also been protests and uprisings across the country dealing with the murder of Black men and women by law enforcement. 

Actions have taken place due to the pressure by the protestors to address the deeply flawed criminal justice system. Of course, it is in my opinion that plenty more can be done. 

In the midst of these protests there were elements of looting and violence. There have been recent revelations on just where this violence is originating from. 

Recently, on the heels of these happenings, president Donald Trump has declared himself the “law and order” president. Saying that he would restore order back in the country

The president used the word “dominate” in recent tweets.

U.S. cities have been referred to as battlegrounds. 

His words were a bit vague but as the Pentagon has ordered a small contingent of active-duty soldiers to alert status to aid police, many are wondering what kind of world we are heading towards. 

Final Girl Survival is about ensuring security in an insecure world. Half of the battle is being prepared by being in the know. 

There’s a lot of talk about martial law, but there are some major things that people get wrong. 

1. What it is exactly

Most people think martial law means the president would have absolute power over the whole entire country. They think it means that the power of governors, mayors, and all those other people we voted in ceases to exist. 

Some think it means soldiers are allowed to go into communities and shoot citizens on sight for disobeying rules. 

That’s not exactly the case. Not in the United States anyway.

The definition of martial law is “direct military control of normal civil functions or suspension of civil law by a government, especially in response to a temporary emergency where civil forces are overwhelmed.” defines it as occurring “when the military chain of command is put in control of civilian society – usually in a time of war – when civilian courts and government are not functioning.”

To put it plainly it means the military takes over as the police, the courts, and the justice system when local governments are out of commission. 

This could be due to something catastrophic like domestic terror or a natural disaster. 

It also means the suspension of habeas corpus

What’s that you ask? 

Habeas corpus basically means no one can be detained or arrested without just cause. 

It means that you have the right to make the government prove to the court that your arrest/detainment is justified.    

2. The National Guard Being Around is Martial Law

People think that when the National Guard is called in that means we are in martial law, or one step away from it. 

That’s not exactly the case. 

Remember the two main definitions? It is when the military is put in control of civilian society. It is when the military TAKES OVER for the police and forms of law enforcement. 

When the National Guard aids and helps police officers in their duties, that is technically NOT martial law. They’re there to aid, not to lead or displace in those instances. 

3. The President is the Only One Who Can Declare Martial Law


More governors have used martial law in the United States than presidents. 

It was declared 70 times between the mid 1800s and the early 1900s. And unfortunately there were times when it wasn’t in the public’s best interests. 

Such as the Colorado Coalfield War. The governor put martial law in place to crush an uprising of coal miners demanding better working conditions. This would lead to the Ludlow Massacre where the Colorado National Guard opened fire on 1,200 workers and their families. 

So no, the president is not the only one who can declare martial law.

4. The President (and Governors) Can Use Martial Law Whenever They Want 

Nope (again).

There is no doubt that martial law is EXTREME. It essentially means that the military displaces the chain of command. They are now THE law and order. They are the police. The military can arrest, detain, and possibly kill you. 

The government has placed limitations on martial law due to this extremity, and the lessons learned from past occurrences.

The main viewpoint is that the president can only declare martial law if it is approved by Congress

This is because Congress is the only branch of government that can suspend habeas corpus. 

If this is the case, then Congress controls how and when it can be used. Congress also has the power to take it away. 

A limit that Congress put on it is the Posse Comitatus Act. 

This act limits the federal government from using the federal military, specifically the United States Army and the United States Air Force, to enforce domestic policies (such as local law enforcement). 

Now, there is debate that since the president is the commander in chief of the military he can just declare martial law without Congress. 

What it really means is that unless Congress and the president are in agreement about martial law, the president will have an intense legal battle on their hands. 

When it comes to the state governors the Posse Comitatus Act doesn’t apply. 

Governors can use their National Guards BUT there are restrictions. 

Although states have their own constitutions that sometimes gives them broader control they still have to follow the U.S. constitution. 

5. All of Our Rights Go Out the Window Under Martial Law 

Habeas corpus being gone under martial law is very scary. 

(It is REALLY scary.)

It makes it seem like you’ve suddenly got no rights and that the military is now judge, jury, and possibly executioner. 

This isn’t exactly the case. 

The Constitution still applies under martial law to a degree– if the courts are still functioning. 

This means that martial law, as ruled by the Supreme Court in 1866, can only be enforced if the courts are no longer functioning. The argument goes that if the courts are functioning then there is no need for martial law. 

Judges have in the past deemed actions taken under martial law unconstitutional.

This happened in Hawaii. The Court overturned convictions of every civilian who had been found guilty by the military court during the time the islands were under martial law from 1941 to 1944. 

6. (Bonus) What About the Insurrection Act?

I won’t lie. This could be the ace in the sleeve for a president wanting to declare martial law. 

The Insurrection Act allows the president, with the blessings of a state’s governor or legislature, to use federal troops to suppress an insurrection in that state. Also, the president can deploy troops without a state’s request if an “unlawful obstruction,” domestic violence or similar civil unrest is creating barriers to law and order. 

Does this mean that if the president looked at a situation and simply thought the governors weren’t doing a good job the president could just send troops and take over? 

Presidents have used the Act a number of times in the last 200 years. 

Technically speaking, yes, the president could use this Act to enforce what would essentially be martial law WITHOUT the governors agreeing. 

BUT it would have to be under the guise that the states have lost complete and total control of the situation. 

Currently, as of the writing of this post, we aren’t there yet. 


When it comes to the boogeyman that is martial law, there’s a lot of red tape preventing it from happening. 

There are still rules and regulations in place that make it so SHTF (sh*t hitting the fan) would have to be pretty monumental for it to happen.

Doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

It just means certain elements would have to be in place for it to occur. 

Do you think we’re heading towards martial law? Let me know in the comments!