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Jade Helm & Standing Armies on the New “Homeland Battlefield”

Should We Be Alarmed?

A lot changed in the US military since 9-11. While looking into this Jade Helm 15 controversy, I was able to educate myself a bit (with unclassified, acronym-laden military documents) about who is doing what — militarily — on U.S soil. So, thought I’d pass on what I learned, realizing it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Official documents about military forces on US soil all emphasize protection and public safety, of course. So, we the people should understand how and why local law enforcement, military state and Federal authorities, and various agencies, are trying to work together to maintain continuity during crises in America. After all, we just might need their help.

Our Present Danger

The military is completely convinced of its need for seamless full spectrum dominance to protect the American people from numerous threats both foreign and domestic. One thing rarely addressed by Congress (Ron Paul was good at it, though) is what we are doing to piss everybody off all the time.

But, things being what they are, we have created a ubiquitous need to be protected within our own borders by standing armies, which puts us at direct odds with some strong warnings passed down by the Founding Fathers who advised hyper-vigilance to ward off sinister armed forces that slip in during times of weakness to take control for their own agendas.

“But when once a standing army is established in any country, the people lose their liberty. When, against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence [sic], — yeomanry, unskilful and unarmed, — what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havoc, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies!” George Mason, Constitutional Convention delegate.

Even though our backs are against the wall, we should still examine whether we are in a situation the founders warned about. Preservers of freedom must be as clear and organized as the emergency response hierarchy we hire to manage every local, regional, and national crisis in these militarized times.

Strolling on a Tightrope

Not only do we need to ward off the serious threat of “havoc, desolation, and destruction” of standing armies among us, we must also be wise enough to understand if and when they are trying to protect our lives and liberties so we can cooperate with them. There is really no room or error. It feels like walking a tightrope.

The military must understand the plight of the so-called free people. How could they not, when their own training documents discuss threats in the homeland on a spectrum from foreign terrorists to citizens trying to guard against tyranny?

Americans tend to believe we have a Constitutional right to personal liberty and to disagree with government policies without being labelled dissidents and being sprayed, shot, or otherwise swatted when we gather to redress grievances.  Our rights are continually drilled into us, and the military is always in foreign lands fighting to protect and preserve our freedom, so we are told.

That’s why problems arise when people who believe in the Constitutionally guaranteed freedom to bear arms — and veterans who have fought to preserve that right, for example — see military documents that say they are the dissidents the military is being trained to control.

Freedom Lovers are a Threat to Security?

Take for example Capstone Exercise 2014: Scenario Ground Truth, a secret Dept. of Homeland Security document leaked last year that describes a nationwide exercise, required by federal law, to practice readiness of responders on every level. Multiple scenarios include (but are not limited to) a massive earthquake in Alaska, nuclear accident in Colorado, a cruise ship collision near San Diego, and potential cyber attack.

The bulk of the document involves critical infrastructure response on every level, but the liberty movement felt they were unfairly targeted in the cyber attack portion of Scenario Ground Truth, because of a fictitious anti-government group, called Free Americans Against Socialist Tyranny, claiming on social media that the government caused the Alaskan earthquake. Most of the cyber attack portion details are unpublished, but play events summarized on pg. 125 has NORTHCOM concerned that the anti-tyranny group will take advantage of the national chaos to hack DoD computers with the help of disgruntled veterans and sympathetic freedom-loving employees within US Northern Command, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, National Guard, and the Defense Information Systems Agency.

I think the liberty movement, which considers itself patriotic, was shocked by the inappropriate assumption they would try to destroy America when she was down, and that the military considers the ideas of free Americans so threatening as to be included in a national emergency scenario when there are real terrorists running around.

Alarm Bells

All things considered, when military exercises are conducted among the populace, alarm bells start to go off, especially when part of the exercise involves troops sneaking around in the dark and blending in among unsuspecting locals in outlying rural areas, which Jade Helm requires.

Notional or not, all this does not set well with freedom loving conspiracy theorists who see the populace being desensitized so a militarized police force can easily move in to take their guns and property, and ship dissenters off to re-education camps.

Not only that, but an explicit purpose of the Jade Helm training is for the the joint command to “…get a true interaction with the public,” and to “gain their trust.” Hey, why don’t you just come on over and have a beer?

As we all know, a good way to gain trust is to listen with a sympathetic ear and try to understand where people are coming from.” Mistrust is created when people twist what others said then hang labels on them. That’s what the military and mainstream media did when Infowars ran the Jade Helm story. They fed the paranoia by belittling concerned Americans — calling them “alarmists,”  and lying about what had been reported.

What this whole thing demonstrates is that the vigilance required to retain our liberty is not something we can just leave to the officials and hope for a nice outcome. The country is still designed to be ruled by citizens who tell their elected officials and their minions what to do and give them money to do it.

So now, the average citizen, — bled dry by economic mismanagement, fueled by fear, dumbed down by mindless entertainment and fluoridated water, dazed by an epidemic of legal and illegal drugs, and sickened by toxic poisons everywhere — must struggle through the brain fog and sort out, for the sake of preserving both liberty and safety, whether the purpose of Jade Helm 15 is to prepare for overseas operations (as the mainstream media keeps stating), or whether soldiers converging across a large swath of rural America foreshadow a Red Dawn type scenario.

Nobody has stated, to my knowledge, that it’s part of the continuing DoD training and preparation for a disaster, such as the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, high-yield Explosive (CBRNE) event they keep talking about.

“Terrorists and/or rogue states will attempt multiple, simultaneous mass casualty CBRNE attacks against the US Homeland. What is at issue is the timing of the event, not that it will occur.” Paul McHale, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense under George Bush.

As of October 2008, NORTHCOM assigned a dedicated force capable of responding within 48 hours to CBRNE incidents in the homeland. The CBRNE team consists of about 4,700 joint personnel that deploy as DoDs initial response force to such an incident. If and when that, or any other crisis occurs, we naturally want all emergency responders working in unison rather than fighting for turf and power tripping.

So, What is the Purpose of Jade Helm and Should We Be Worried About It?

Jade Helm is an 8-week multi-state series of military and inter-agency exercises within civilian populations around the US, scheduled for the summer of 2015. It involves more than 1,200 Green Berets, Navy Seals, Marines and Air Force Special Operations Commands, USMC Marine Expeditionary Units, 82nd Airborne Division, and inter-agency partners like DEA, and FBI.

They Say It’s For “Mastering the Human Domain” Jade Helm will bring Special Operations Command personnel deep into American rural areas to practice Realistic Military Training (RTM) for the purpose of “mastering the human domain,” which sounds a bit freaky.

Despite the strange sounding objective, authorities ensure the training is perfectly normal and necessary for national security. What would the Founding Fathers think?

“Every one knows that the exercise of military power is forever dangerous to civil rights…” Samuel Adams

The state of Texas appears on the Jade Helm exercise map and the Houston Chronicle said trainees will attempt to blend in with local populations in an effort to test the effectiveness of infiltration techniques and residents will be advised to report “suspicious activity” during the operations.

“They’re going to set up cells of people and test how well they’re able to move around without getting too noticed in the community,” said Roy Boyd, chief deputy with the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office.

So, if playing hide and seek with undercover military folks sounds like fun, you might enjoy Jade Helm.

What Does the Military Say About Jade Helm?

According to Request to Conduct Realistic Military Training, a promotional piece (unclassified document) presented to local officials, Jade Helm requires large areas of undeveloped land with low populations, and access to towns, in order to practice mastering the human domain. These conditions supposedly offer “real obstacles to challenge Joint and AI personnel during planning and execution of their tasks.” Beyond blending in, it doesn’t say what exactly the tasks will be.

Gaining Our Trust

We read in the unclassified document that an important factor of the exercises is for the joint command to “get a true interaction with the public,” and to “gain their trust.” It’s unclear how the aspect of gaining civilians’ trust works into the mix of staging areas, role players, increased aircraft at night, drop zones, landing zones, soldiers walking around with weapons (with blank ammo) and some sneaking around in civilian clothes and unmarked cars, as described in the promotional publication.

Show Me The Money

Maybe the trust part kicks in when military front men go to mayors and county commissioners and offer them money to go along with the exercises. The unclassified document said about $150,000 would flow into cooperating local economies between July 15 and Sept 15, 2015.

Enter Infowars

More than one thing about the Jade Helm scenario alarmed alternative news outlets like Infowars, who broke the story by showing the cover of the unclassified US Army Special Operations Command publication: Request to Conduct Realistic Military Training (RMT), and told their audience what is inside.

One thing inside is a training exercise map that labels the states of Texas and Utah as “hostile territory.” The military previously referred to Indians who stood up for their land and rights as “hostiles”, and you see what happened there.

Notional or not, the hostile part didn’t set well with freedom loving conspiracy theorists who see the populace being desensitized so a militarized police force can easily move in to take their guns and ship dissenters off to re-education camps.

“The military is being trained to cordon off cities and take guns, Jones said on his show March 23. “Of course all this training has dual use overseas, but they’re doing it openly in civilian areas to condition the military and the public to accept military occupation in the US under the Brigade Homeland Plan and the John Warden Defense Authorization Act of 2007.” Alex Jones, Infowars

Both the Brigade Homeland Plan and Authorization Act can be seen as good or bad, depending on the need for safety versus need for freedom. Brigade Homeland trains returning soldiers in CBRNE incident response.  A feature of the authorization act expands the President’s power to declare martial law and take charge of United States National Guard troops without state governor authorization when public law and order breaks down.

A March 23 article in Stars and Stripes, has the Army Special Operations Command pushing back against Jones’ “alarmist claims” about Jade Helm. Then mainstream networks — instead of doing balanced reporting — responded with boilerplate statements and falsely accused Infowars of saying it uncovered a secret Army document with plans to initiate martial law this summer. That isn’t what was said and the lies are further fueling suspicions of everyone who aligns more with the founding fathers’ worldview.

Aren’t soldiers sneaking around in rural areas and conducting suspicious activities confusing enough to the public without the media lying about it? Did they do this out of ignorance or is it proof of a psyop?

Infowars Presents Documentation

In response to the media misinformation attack, Jones produced a 20-minute emergency broadcast explaining in detail why he thinks Jade Helm is problematic. The video is accompanied with a list of articles linked to testimonials and government documents that support the liberty movement’s concerns. Some are provided below as well.

“There is a global move to militarize police and to put standing armies on the streets to suppress the population and carry out political operations,” Jones says in the video, directing his comments primarily to Department of Defense (DoD), the four military branches, active duty servicemen and their families, veterans, state governments, and local governments. “Despite assurances that the training is to prepare troops for overseas missions, Army documents in the past have made clear that plans for martial law are in place within the Continental United States (CONUS).”

Jones’ documents mention such things as “clergy response teams” comprised of ministers who agree to turn in citizens that resist tyranny; help wanted ads for internment camp specialists, and a leaked 2012 US Army Military Police training manual called, Civil Disturbance Operations, which he says describes how soldiers would be ordered to confiscate firearms and kill American “dissidents.” The manual revealed that prisoners would be detained in temporary internment camps and “re-educated” to gain a new appreciation of “U.S. policies,” in accordance with U.S. Army FM 3-19.40 Internment/Resettlement Operations.

“We, in the liberty movement, are trying to get ahead of this and have a debate about it, so the psyop doesn’t work,” Jones said.

Here are some of the articles Jones links to in his emergency broadcast:

Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Mississippi and Florida were on the scenario map originally shared on Infowars. Since then more states have been added. The military says the training is expected to provide challenges of:

  • Operating outside the normal support mechanism.
  • Adapting to unfamiliar terrain, social and economic conditions.
  • Operating in and around communities where anything out of the ordinary will be spotted and reported.
  • Working with civilians to gain their trust and understanding of the issues.

“In a word, the success of future strategic initiatives and the ability of the U.S. to shape a peaceful and prosperous global environment will rest more and more on our ability to understand, influence, or exercise control within the human domain,” according to the military’s document.

The mainstream media needs to understand that not everybody takes kindly to soldiers dropping from the sky or arriving in unmarked cars to blend in for the purpose of understanding, influencing, and controlling us in our human domain.

This is especially true after decades of escalating reports about people being raided by black clad SWAT teams backed up by military tanks without presenting warrants. We even hear about the peaceful Amish being raided these days because they practice a traditional lifestyle outside the status quo.

“The means of defence (sic) against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.” James Madison

In a nation where more and more activity is criminalized, and the military is becoming more involved in Local Law Enforcement (LEA), there is an immediate need for heightened vigilance to preserve the freedom to live on earth according to natural laws and justice. We can not assume everyone will remain clear about the line between civil and military duties; between the military game and natural reality.

“A standing army, however necessary it may be at some times, is always dangerous to the liberties of the people. Such power should be watched with a jealous eye.” Samuel Adams

Will Posse Comitatus Save Us?

Posse Comitatus is commonly considered a line in the sand that stops the military from policing the public, but it’s not that black and white. Some (notably in homeland security circles) are advocating that it be done away with completely.

The last section of this essay examines some things you may not know about Posse Comitatus.

Today’s Interplay Between State, Civic, and Federal Forces

As I said in the beginning of this essay,  a lot changed in the US military after 9-11.

President George Bush established NORTHCOM to provide command and control (C-2) of DoD homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities on Oct. 1, 2002.

The frequency of joint U.S. military and state domestic homeland security operations has risen dramatically since NORTHCOM was established.

DoD’s new number one priority is homeland defense.

There has been a major thrust to combine efforts of state and federal forces, and local first responders, who help restore law and order in times of crisis.

What had previously been a “hand wave” relationship has escalated to a full embrace of the various entities who now train to operate in unison.

The US Army is DoDs premier land-based homeland defense and civil support force. In Dec. ’09 the Army launched a journal called Civil Support and the U.S. Army to promote the interplay of federal and state military forces on the “homeland battlefield” explains some of the changes. It includes articles about “hot button” issues written for military personnel, DHS, National Guard, and local, state, and federal agencies. The following points are taken from the publication. (Ideas expressed are not necessarily formal army doctrine).

What is the Homeland Battlefield ?

The homeland battlefield may be a spot on the U.S. border, a hurricane, street riot, football game, bridge collapse, political party convention, the drug war, or other crisis that threatens law and order on U.S soil. Natural disaster zones become battlefields when looters take advantage of the crisis to enrich themselves, for example.

The complexity of the homeland battlefield requires that military and local law enforcement coordinate their efforts.

For example, the drug war overlays a big battlefield over the entire country, especially around the borders. (DoD helped the National Guard sieze more than 316,397 pounds of marijuana and 5,224 pounds of cocaine in 2008).

Cops and the Military Join Forces

Law enforcement and DoD have a long history of cooperation during search and rescue, natural disasters, and riots in major cities.

Colonel Deputy Commander R. Barry Cronin, JTF North, a U.S. Marine based in Fort Bliss, Texas, says 9-11 dramatically increased need for that cooperation. His article reprinted from The Police Chief provides an overview of how DoD and NORTHCOM interact with civilian law enforcement.

After 9-11, law enforcement agencies throughout the US responded by reorganizing and redistributing assets to meet the new threat.

Also, DoD “recognized the need to enhance cooperation with law enforcement agencies at all levels while respecting the legal constraints imposed by the Posse Comitatus Act and the U.S. Constitution.”

NORTHCOM was established specifically to provide command and control (C-2) over homeland defense and coordinate with civil authorities. It’s two missions are:

  • Deter, prevent, and defeat threats and aggression aimed at the United States, its territories, and its interests.
  • When directed by the President, support civil authorities (typically a lead federal agency) in homeland defense and consequence management.

Defense of the U.S. homeland is NORTHCOMs top priority, but according to Col. Cronin, it expends most of its resources providing military support to lead federal agencies. Representatives from numerous federal agencies have offices at NORTHCOM headquarters.

NORTHCOM is responsible for planning, organizing and executing homeland defense and civil support missions that cover air, land, and sea approaches to the continental US, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, and the surrounding water out to about 500 nautical miles, including the Gulf of Mexico and Straits of Florida.

NORTHCOM has few permanently assigned forces. They are assigned as necessary when ordered by the President and Secretary of Defense.

NORTHCOMs civil support mission covers natural disasters, the drug war, and managing the consequences (chaos) after a terrorist event that employs weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After a crisis, DoD orders NORTHCOM to (generally) work with existing joint task forces (JTF) that are subordinate to the Command — of which there are several. NORTHCOM can only become involved when a disaster exceeds the ability of local, state, and federal agencies to respond, but it cannot conduct direct law enforcement (unless otherwise authorized by law.)

Two NORTHCOM subordinate commands are “most involved in day-to-day non emergency support to civil law enforcement. These are the Joint Task Force North (JTF-N) and Joint Force Headquarters, National Capital Region (JFHQ-NCR).

U.S. Army North and Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS) primarily provide emergency support. JTF-CS provides Command and Control (C-2) resources to federal, state, and local authorities in the US, its territories and possessions as a result of a CBRNE attack within US borders.

Defense Support of Civil Authorities

Most people think Federal forces are only involved in chaos management after something like a terrorist WMD attack when the task proves too much for the National Guard and other state agencies. In reality, federal military forces, DoD civilian and contract personnel, and various federal agencies also respond to a variety of domestic emergencies, “designated law enforcement” and “other activities.”

Civil jurisdictions near military installations particularly, enjoy a close working relationship with federal military authorities. Military installations coordinate with local law enforcement to ensure adequate patrol coverage of perimeter areas. Military installations have access to local law enforcement frequencies and they share data.

How Police Get Military Equipment

The Law Enforcement Support Office at the Defense Logistics Agency at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is authorized to transfer DoD equipment to federal and state law enforcement agencies via two programs. There is a contact person in each state to administer the programs.

  • 1033 Program (formerly 1208) authorizes transfer of excess DoD property for counterdrug and counterterrorism missions.
  • 1122 Program authorizes purchase allows the local law enforcement to purchase equipment for the drug war from the federal government.

JTF-N missions are always led by a federal Law Enforcement Agency (LEA) which uses volunteer units to provide support to LEAs by “employing military assets to help police agencies detect and interdict transnational threats with a counterdrug nexus,” specifically, narcotics trafficking, alien smuggling, international terrorism, WMDs, and organized crime. They don’t directly arrest people or seize assets. They take action upon requests from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Justice (DOJ), and regional high-intensity drug trafficking areas (HIDTAs) as designated by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Police and sheriffs in a HIDTA may request help from JTF-N when drugs are involved and there is training value to the military.

DoDs Drug War and Civil Law Enforcement

Drug War activities via DoD and JTF-N are defined in US Code and department policy. JTF-N provides four broad categories of support to LEAs:

Operational Support: This employs military ground sensors, radar, drones, Stryker vehicles, other detection technologies, and air surveillance to detect cultivation or processing of illegal drugs on public lands and forests.

Intelligence Support: Includes imaging support, gathering, analyzing, and sharing data.

Engineering Support: Enhances LEAs mobility along the southwest US border by constructing roads, bridges, fences, barriers, and installing lights.

General Support: Detecting tunnels, transporting LEA personnel and equipment in airplanes, aerial refueling, and — one of the main investments — mobile training teams.

Mobile Military Teams are Training Local Law Enforcers

Mobile DoD teams train LEA personnel in “special reaction team operations,” desert survival, trauma management, chemical weapons detection, patrolling, land navigation, and intelligence link analysis.

Some Day-to-Day functions of NORTHCOM

JTF-CS and the U.S. Army North (formerly the Fifth Army) are the NORTHCOM subordinate commands primarily responsible for emergency response.

U.S. Army North is located in the historic Quadrangle on For Sam Houston, Texas. Their mission is to conduct civil support operations and theater security cooperation with armies of Mexico and Canada. They provide help to civil authorities in two ways: Support under the National Response Plan — usually provided under the Stafford Act (President-declared emergencies) — and immediate response, which is initiated by request from civil authorities.

President Declares an Emergency

The Stafford Act authorizes the President to provide disaster and emergency assistance to state and local governments upon receipt of a request from the state or territorial governor. JTF-CS forces can only engage in domestic civil support after Presidential and Secretary of Defense direction.

One of JTF-CS’ main functions is management of high fidelity geo-spatial products and geographic information system data sets. These data sets relate to US municipalities and critical infrastructure.

Immediate Response

Immediate response is “any form of immediate action taken by a DoD component or military commander…to assist civil authorities or the public to save lives, prevent human suffering, or mitigate great property damage under imminently serious conditions occurring where there has not been any declaration of major disaster or emergency by the president. Local military commanders have the authority to act without a specific Presidential directive under those circumstances.

National Response Plan Support

The NRP was updated May 25, 2006 to establish a comprehensive all-hazards approach for managing domestic incidents. It establishes protocols for local, state, tribal, private emergency management sectors and homeland to security interface. It is a bottom-up process where local first responders engage state responders (i.e. National Guard), who in turn may call in DHS as primary federal responder. If more help is needed, DHS issues an inter-agency request for assistance from DoD. NORTHCOM then decides which military assets to deploy.

The Coordinating Officer

The U.S. Army Defense Coordinating Officer is the single point of contact for coordinating state and federal officers during an emergency. There is a DCO in each FEMA region and all DCOs are assigned to NORTHCOMs U.S. Army North. They will most likely be the DoDs first responder in a crisis. DCOs must be thoroughly familiar with current state and federal disaster response plans. They coordinate with military installations in their FEMA regions, and can engage all homeland defense and civil support forces. The DCO should be participating in local, state, federal, and military exercises in the region. Each DCO is permanently assigned a five-person staff, (the Defense Coordinating Element (DCE)).

The New National Guard & Dual Status

In 2004 Congress changed Federal law (Title 32) governing the National Guard. The change, known as “dual-status,” allows simultaneous Command and Control (C-2) of both Federal and state forces.

Dual-status means the Federal government can choose to employ the Guard in homeland defense and civil support actions. Title 32 controls training of the Guard for national missions like drug interdiction and homeland defense. Subsequently, the National Guard reorganized itself and launched homeland defense programs.

The National Guard Bureau (NGB) also reorganized itself to better coordinate the relationship between state government and the national defense. This has met with varying degrees of success. Soon after the law changed, dual-status command was implemented in three national special security events and in support of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection during Operation Winter Freeze. These operations were successfully coordinated among NORTHCOM, NGB, and the National Guard.

Governors Guard State Sovereignty

A major problem arose with the uncoordinated and dysfunctional  state/federal response to Hurricane Katrina. Other natural disasters highlighted the fact that states are reticent to give up their sovereign authority after a crisis. They want their own National Guard commanders (overseen by state governors) to lead all forces that respond.

Traditionally, domestic emergency management control originates at the local level and is progressively supported by additional response when needed.

These values were evident when Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco opposed federalizing the state National Guard and rejected President Bush’s offer to appoint an active duty officer instead of a National Guard officer as dual-status commander.

After Hurricane Rita, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was determined to retain C2 in the hands of the Texas National Guard. His request was not fulfilled so NORTHCOM forces did not integrate with state military response directly.

During Florida’s Hurricane Wilma in 2005, Governor Jeb Bush called the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertof, and complained that the Federal Government’s unilateral actions were insulting to him personally and the citizens of Florida. (See Robert Block and Amy Schatz, Local and Federal Authorities Battle to Control Disaster Relief. Wall Street Journal, December 5, 2005.

Maybe Some Money Will Change Their Minds?

In 2005 Congress amended Title 32 again, authorizing the Secretary of Defense to “provide funds to Governors to employ National Guard units or members to conduct homeland defense activities.”

There is a push toward blending the National Guard and Federal Military via the Dual-Control doctrine. Nevertheless, the Federal/state relationship remains polarized (as of ’09) on questions of Command and Control.

So, What About Posse Comitatus?

Posse Comitatus is rooted in English common law. It literally means: the “force of the county” and refers to a body of men (a posse) above the age of 15 whom the sheriff can summon to repress a riot or for other purposes.

Posse Comitatus Law: “Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.” Posse Comitatus Act — 18 U.S.C. § 1385, original at 20 Stat. 152 — signed on June 18, 1878 by President Rutherford B. Hayes. The law was amended in 1959 to include Alaska, and again in 1994 to remove an upper limit of $10,000 on the fine that was in the original act.

Modern patriots often cite Posse Comitatus as a cherished ancient law that holds the military in check — that it reduces it to patrolling borders and protecting the US from external attack, rather than acting as militarized police to enforce laws. But this is not actually the case, according to Col. (Ret) John R. Brinkerhoff, who likens Posse Comitatus to an unsubstantiated urban myth or a chain letter where unfounded conclusions are passed along without question.

“It is widely believed that this law prohibits the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps from performing any kind of police work or assisting law enforcement agencies to enforce the law…In fact, he says, most people have turned the meaning of Posse Comitatus completely in on it’s head.

Posse Comitatus was not enacted to prevent the military from being a national police force, but to prevent the Army from having its soldiers pressed into service as police officers (a posse) by local law enforcement officials in the post-Reconstruction South, Brinkerhoff writes in an article, Domestic Operational Law: The Posse Comitatus Act and Homeland Security, originally published in the Journal of Homeland Security, Dec. 2002. His bias is toward getting rid of Posse Comitatus altogether. Whether you agree or not, his comments are enlightening for their historical value, and because his view is enjoined by other homeland security officials, who, at a time of escalating fear and militarism, have the ear of Congress.

Brinkerhoff points out that federal troops were used for domestic operations more than 200 times between 1795 to 1995, and most of these were state law enforcement operations. Granted, just because the government does something 200 times doesn’t make it legal, but there have never been any prosecutions under the law. So let’s take closer look at Posse Comitatus.

A Bit of Posse Comitatus History

Back in the 1850s, there was a need to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, so President Franklin Pierce’s attorney general, Caleb Cushing, opined in 1854, that militias and army regulars could be pressed into service by U.S. marshals and county sheriffs without the assent of the president. There was never any legislative or judicial review on the attorney’s opinion.

The Cushing Doctrine encouraged the use of the Army and Navy as police forces, which was widely appreciated by local law enforcement, especially in the far-flung and rowdy Wild West.

Martial Law in the South

Up to Civil War times, the militia, under state control, maintained local order all over the U.S. But during Reconstruction there was no effective militia in the defeated states. It was the Army that kept law and order in the South. It exercised police and judicial functions and oversaw local governments in all 11 defeated Confederate States. This is commonly known as martial law.

Use of the Army was validated by the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which empowered U.S. marshals to summon and call to their aid the posse comitatus of the counties, or portions of the land or naval forces of the United States, or of the militia. Even after Reconstruction, US marshals and sheriffs all over the United States continued to rely on both civilian and military assistance to enforce laws within their districts — all without presidential approval.

This met with resistance from the Army and War Department, who insisted soldiers’ paramount duty was to their commands. Troops helping local law enforcement were to act only in organized units under their own officers and would obey the orders of those officers.

In 1871, the War Dept. under President U. S. Grant, issued general orders to allow US forces to assist civil authorities with arresting criminals, dispersing marauders and armed organizations, and other duties.

By 1877, during Grant’s second term, federal troops were no longer used to enforce the law in the South. But U.S. marshalls around the U.S. still wanted to use troops to help enforce local laws.

Attorney General Charles Devens opined that the U.S. Judiciary Act of 1789 authorized U.S. marshals to raise a posse comitatus comprising every person in a district above 15 years of age, “including the military of all denominations, militia, soldiers, marines, all of whom are alike bound to obey the commands of a Sheriff or Marshal” without explicit approval of the commander in chief.

Resistance to this practice was erupting in Congress and an amendment to an Army appropriations bill became the Posse Comitatus Act in of 1878. Congress voted to restrict U.S. marshals and local sheriffs from conscripting military personnel into their posses but they did not preclude the use of troops if authorized by the president or Congress.

“Somehow, in the past 125 years, the meaning of the Posse Comitatus Act has been stood on its head. Clearly the exposition above demonstrates that the intent of the act was not to preclude the Army from enforcing the law but instead was designed to allow the Army to do this only when directed to do so by the President or Congress,” writes Brinkerhoff.

The Posse Comitatus Act meant troops could no longer be used on any authority other than that of the President. Commanders in the field would no longer have any discretion but must wait for orders from Washington. This crippled law enforcement in the West, where the Cushing Doctrine was being used a great deal by marshals and local sheriffs to call on local military commanders for assistance. Having to wait for presidential approval before troops could be used was inefficient considering slow communications and the turbulence of the frontier.

“Current reluctance to use federal troops to enforce the laws of the United States is a relatively new phenomenon,” according to Birkethoff. Court decisions since the 1970s continue to restrict the role of federal troops in domestic law enforcement by reinterpreting the meaning of Posse Comitatus, he says. “The modern revised version…is widely accepted today as the law of the land. It is the basis for the myth that federal troops may not enforce the laws at all.”

Court decisions have had the effect of substantially limiting what federal troops can do, even against terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction, Birkenhoffer says. Congress and the President have circumvented these judicial revisions by signing into law several statutes that delegate authority to the President and DoD to direct federal troops and civilian employees of DoD to enforce the law. The three most important and recent laws in this regard are (as of back in ’09):

  • In the event of a nuclear materials attack, federal troops may arrest people, conduct searches and seizures, protect people and property, and take other law enforcement actions.
  • In the event of a chemical or biological attack, DoD may provide assistance but can not make arrests, conduct search and seizures, or collect intelligence for law enforcement purposes.
  • DoD can provide support to civilian LEAs, including equipment and training. It does not authorize direct search, seizure, or arrest by military personnel.

DoD also asserts the inherent right for military troops and its civilian employees to enforce the law under certain conditions, including: insurgency, domestic violence, or conspiracy that hinders execution of state or federal law.

A Summary of What Posse Comitatus Can and Cannot Do

Posse Comitatus does not allow U.S. troops to arrest citizens or investigate crimes.

It does not prevent the President from using federal troops in riots or civil disorders.

Posse Comitatus only applies to the Army and Air Force — not the Navy and Marine Corps. It is Department of Defense policy, not U.S. law, that constrains the Navy and Marine Corps to behave as if the act applies to them.

It does not apply to the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Transportation, and is both an armed force and a federal law enforcement agency with police powers.

It does not apply to the National Guard in its role as state troops on state active duty under the command of the respective governors. It is only common belief, not law, that National Guard units and personnel are restricted by the Posse Comitatus Act when they are on federal active duty.

It does not apply to other state guards or Defense Forces under the command of the respective governors.

Case history makes it clear that it was not intended to prevent federal police, such as marshals, from enforcing the law.

The origin and legislative history of the act make it clear that it applies only to military personnel not  civilian federal employees who are sworn law enforcement officers.

Congress enacted exceptions where Posse Comitatus does not apply, such as when a nuclear material is involved in an emergency, or in counterdrug operations.

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