In case you don’t know, martial law is when the government takes over a designated territory, suspends constitutional rights, and enforces authoritarian power with the use of the military. Basic civilian rights such as a trial before imprisonment and other democratic processes are limited or suspended completely. Every democracy has the potential for martial law.
Martial law usually happens during something like large riot, a terrorist attack, or a large scale natural disaster. During frightening events like these, many people prefer to give up their rights so they can have the peace of mind an authoritarian government offers. Who needs rights as long as you can feel safe from looters, right? The trouble is, there have been instances where martial law has gone too far. In the video below, you’ll see what happened after hurricane Katrina.
Here are a few things to expect during martial law and what you can do to ensure your safety.
1. Confiscation of Firearms
As it shows in the video above, one of the first things to occur under martial law is the confiscation of firearms. Any civilian with a firearm will be deemed a threat, which means it’s important to hide your weapons in a place that only you and trusted family or friends know about. Have multiple stashes so if one stash is found, you can pretend that’s all there is. If you have a bunker, keep some weapons and firearms there as well. Make sure you have plenty of ammo, too.
Expect to be searched without cause. Anything that is found on you is in danger of being taken. Keep this in mind when going out so that you don’t lose something valuable to government forces or other opportunistic enemies. Also, if you have children in your home, please keep your gun in a combination safe.
Curfew under martial law will be strictly enforced, and it is inadvisable to break it. In the event that you must go out past curfew, be prepared. Know back routes and less traveled paths to your destination. Stealth is of the utmost importance, so be sure you have the appropriate gear to move about quickly and undetected. If you must travel in groups, keep them small. The larger the group, the higher the risk of being detected.
3. Restriction of Free Speech
Your constitutional rights are void under martial law, so it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself. There will be people who will object to martial law, and those that loudly protest will suffer. A protester during martial law is likely to be imprisoned and possibly shot. If you have the desire to rally together a militia, do so with extreme care and discretion. Militias typically operate underground as they are the weaker and smaller force.
4. Forcible Removal from Property
Just because you own the land or house you live in doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed to stay there once martial law is in place. Depending on the situation, it is possible that many people, including you, will be relocated. They may also decide to set up camp in your home, so be prepared for this. Have a bug out bag ready at all times in the event of martial law so when the time comes you can relocate quickly and safely.
You may choose to stay on your property and in your house, but it would be a high-risk move for the average home owner. The precautions taken to prevent the take-over of your home are only going to be effective against looters and not against well-equipped and trained government forces.
5. Confiscation of Food Supplies
Along with your firearms, military forces may choose to take your food supplies as well as other basic living essentials. If you have any medicine you need, hide it somewhere. Keep most of your medicine in your bunker, a little on your person, and the rest in a hidden location in case you are unable to bunker down in time. While most people stock up on food supplies at home, it would be wise to have a good stock of food and water in a well-prepared bunker. Homes are easy targets and may be raided for supplies by military forces, leaving you high and dry as well as dependent on the government for your next meal.
6. Detained or Imprisoned at Will
For whatever reason, you may be imprisoned by military forces without provocation. They may find you suspicious or threatening, mistake you for someone else, or just hate your face. The best thing to do under military law is to stay out of sight. Never draw attention to yourself. In the event that you are in the presence of or confronted by government forces, always act as a good citizen should, being readily obedient until you can slip away.
When Has Martial Law Been Enacted Throughout History?
National martial law in the United States was only declared once, and that was in the great Civil War. Keep in mind that the national level requires the declaration of the President or the Congress. Other than that, history has shown that martial law has been limited to states.
Use of military force was enforced in instances such as the Whiskey Rebellion and during the Civil War, but there wasn’t any declaration of martial law. Here are some more instances where martial law was enacted throughout history:
Freedom Riders – Alabama governor Patterson declared martial law on May of 1961 in order to combat the agitators coming in the state specifically to violate Alabama’s laws and customs.
Hawaii Territory – Hawaii was held in December 7 1941 under martial law during WW2 and was not lifted until October 24 1944. Hawaii’s federal judges later condemned the rule stating that a military dictatorship was set up not in the island’s best interests, but to those of the army.
San Francisco 1934 – Frank Merriam, governor of California during 1934 declared martial law and cited “unlawful tumult and riots” when dock workers held a strike. The National Guard was summoned to open up the docks and were able to successfully control it, averting the crisis. Furthermore, the guardsmen were given the power to make arrests or detain the employees for later court trials.
Tulsa Race Riot – The Oklahoma National Guard decreed martial law in 1921 in response to KKK members conspiring to eradicate Black Wall Street. The plan was to wipe out the business center of African Americans by jealous whites. Those who tried to flee were shot or lynched by the KKK.
Coal Wars in West Virginia – Martial law was declared for the West Virginia state when coal wars erupted in the years 1920 to 1921. Federal troops were sent by Governor Cornwell’s orders to rally up the miners who rallied. It was one of the few martial laws that was used for ostensible reasons, as the army officers used their power to jail union members. Martial law dictatorship by Governor Cornwell and the army ended with Sid Hatfield’s trial.
Colorado Coalfield – War Martial law was imposed on the climax of the Colorado Coalfield War in 1914. The decades-long conflict finally bubbled over and it was the town of Ludlow, Colorado that took the hit. As such, the Colorado National Guard was summoned to calm the protests. The shifting of National Guard opinions led to clashes and resulted in the Ludlow Massacre. American President Wilson ended the violence by sending in the federal troops.
1906 San Francisco Earthquake Presidio – troops were called to action after the great earthquake in 1906. Martial law was declared and the guards were stationed all throughout San Francisco. Dynamite was utilized to destroy buildings in the path of fire to prevent it from spreading further.
1892 Coeur d’Alene – Mine workers shot at opposing miners and destroyed a mill in the 1892 Coeur d’Alene incident in Idaho. The governor promptly called for martial law, summoned the guardsmen and requested for federal troops as well. The result was the arrest of over 600 people, which ended with the court martial of more than 20 ringleaders.
The Chicago Fire – Roswell Mason, then mayor of Chicago, declared martial law in 1871 after the Great Chicago Fire. He then ordered General Philip Sheridan to take over and put the city under control on October 9 1871. When the great fire was put out, the state of martial law was lifted in just a few days.
Ex parte Milligan – President Abraham Lincoln imposed martial law authorized by the congress on September 15 1863. The act effectively suspended habeas corpus throughout the whole of United States, declaring the suspension on spies, aiders, prisoners of war and enemy abettors. It was later challenged by the Ex parte Milligan and won as the Supreme Court ruled the martial law as unconstitutional.
The War of 1812 – General Andrew Jackson declared the state of emergency in New Orleans, Lousiana during the War of 1812. He then successfully fought off the invading British, but kept the martial law active, saying he didn’t receive the official word of peace.
The American Revolution – Parliament effectively passed the Government Act of Massachusetts after the Boston Tea Party, which suppressed any and all assemblies and town meetings. It also imposed an appointed government, which is very similar to the current martial law we have today.
Martial law has happened countless times before, and it is bound to happen again. if martial law is in place, you are in danger and it is in your best interest to hide until normal government functions resume. It is important that you at least have a plan of action for when martial law takes place. Your survival is all that will matter in that time, and it will not be an easy effort. There are many opportunists and bad people out there that will thrive under martial law. You will need to be able to defend yourself from such people.
Defending yourself from an attack is the worst case scenario and best avoided by staying out of sight. Don’t go out in public, and especially avoid high trafficked areas. Learn basic survival skills like hunting and off grid cooking. You must be ready for anything. If you have a bunker to hide out in, be sure not to take any cell phones or GPS devices that could give away your location (even if you think you can’t get a signal underground). Only leave your bunker or hiding spot when absolutely necessary. Your welfare during martial law will depend on your preparedness.