Opinion | Trump's military force threats raise questions. Here's what he can (and can't) do.

The domestic use of the military could absolutely become a problem. But the president’s rhetoric — and that of his supporters — is, at least for now, of equal concern.

6/3/2020 8:51:00 AM

Opinion | Steve Vladeck: 'It has become commonplace to conflate any domestic use of the military with the imposition of martial law...Such a conflation is a mistake.' - NBCNewsTHINK

The domestic use of the military could absolutely become a problem. But the president’s rhetoric — and that of his supporters — is, at least for now, of equal concern.

But although the Insurrection Act was regularly invoked well into the 20th century, usage dropped dramatically after the Vietnam War. Indeed, the last time it was invoked was by President George H.W. Bush in May 1992 — in the middle of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. It wasn’t invoked by President Bill Clinton after Oklahoma City bombing or by President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or Hurricane Katrina. Some of that may be because local and state law enforcement officers have far greater resources and capabilities than they used to, or because presidents may be wary of the potential political cost of taking a federal leadership role in a situation bound to produce angry constituents.

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But there is also widespread concern that domestic use of the military is bad policy, if not affirmatively corrosive to the rule of law — and that the military’s job is to fight foreign enemies, not police American streets. This concern is supported by both military and political experts, not to mention advocates on the ground.

"I believe that we in America should not get used to or accept uniformed service members of any variety having to be put in a position where they are having to secure people inside the United States of America," Army Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden, the adjutant general of the Georgia Department of Defense,

said on Sunday.But there is also widespread concern that domestic use of the military is bad policy, if not affirmatively corrosive to the rule of law.One note: It has become commonplace to conflate any domestic use of the military withthe imposition of martial law

— a term that refers far more specifically to circumstances in which there is no functioning civilian authority, such that the military is governing by necessity. Such a conflation is a mistake. The purpose of the Insurrection Act is to provide the president with a mechanism for ensuring that federal laws are enforced in circumstances in which local and state authorities are either unable or unwilling to do so.

Indeed, given the distrust of local law enforcement in many communities today, it seems hard to imagine a well-trained, cool-headed military presence could make the situation worse. On the other hand, in Washington, D.C., on Monday nightin a maneuver similar to ones used to scare insurgents in war zones.

Read more: NBC News »

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