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Past presidents have used the Insurrection Act to protect civil rights and enforce desegregation. Trump could use it to quell the protests against police brutality.


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Past presidents have used the Insurrection Act to protect civil rights and enforce desegregation. Trump could use it to quell the protests against police brutality.

President Donald Trump has threatened to deploy active duty military troops in states to quell George Floyd protests against police brutality.In doing so, he would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which grants the president the sweeping authority to use military force within the US if they deem it necessary to prevent an uprising that threatens…

Past presidents have used the Insurrection Act to protect civil rights and enforce desegregation. Trump could use it to quell the protests against police brutality.
  • President Donald Trump has threatened to deploy active duty military troops in states to quell George Floyd protests against police brutality.
  • In doing so, he would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807, which grants the president the sweeping authority to use military force within the US if they deem it necessary to prevent an uprising that threatens a state or civil rights.
  • In its 213-year history, the act has been used dozens of times, often in situations pertaining to racism and segregation.
  • The last time the act was used was to quell the 1992 Rodney King protests in Los Angeles, after four police officers were acquitted after brutally beating King to the ground for 15 minutes.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Addressing the nation from the White House Rose Garden on Monday, President Donald Trump threatened to use active duty military force to quell protests against police brutality that have swept the nation.

For more than a week, protests sparked by the death of George Floyd have gripped the country, as people demand justice for Floyd and countless other victims of police killings in the US.

In most cases, Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been peaceful and passionate displays of community; in some cases, they have turned violent following law enforcement’s use of excessive force and the actions of some agitators.

Describing the protests as dangerous and destructive, Trump insinuated that he would use his authority to send in active duty troops to suppress them.

To do so, he would be invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807 — a law that grants the president the power to deploy military troops on US soil if a situation is deemed threatening enough.

“We are ending the riots and lawlessness that has spread throughout our country. We will end it now,” Trump said on Monday, encouraging mayors and governors to deploy the National Guard to “dominate the streets.”

“If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents,” he continued, “then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

The Insurrection Act of 1807 lets the president deploy the armed forces to suppress ‘rebellion’

forced desegregation

National Guard troops form a line in a street to enforce the nation’s first desegregation at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Paul Slade/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


President Thomas Jefferson signed the Insurrection Act into law in 1807. It grants the president the power to deploy military troops to suppress uprisings on US soil.

The law acts as an exception to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the military from policing throughout the country, unless Congress authorizes it.

The Insurrection Act can be invoked at the request of a state, but other provisions of the law suggest that the president can invoke it regardless of a governor or state legislature’s consent.

Specifically, the law states:

“Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.”

In other words, if the president can make an argument that federal law is being violated or that states aren’t protecting the rights of its citizens, the law can be ordered without a local official’s request.

Insurrection Act Arkansas

Black students are provided with a military escort when entering and leaving Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas, following the school’s desegregation, 1957.

FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images


The Insurrection Act has been used dozens of times since it was first established, according to a review from the Congressional Research Service. Just one year after it was signed into law, Jefferson used the act throughout New York and Vermont to enforce his wildly unpopular the Embargo Act, which banned Americans from exporting goods.

Most of the time, the Insurrection Act has been used in matters pertaining to race.

In 1831, President Andrew Jackson deployed the military to squash a slave rebellion led by Nat Turner in Virginia, the Washington Post reported. With consent of the mayor, Jackson sent in three army artillery companies and members of the Navy to end the two-day rebellion for freedom.

The Insurrection Act has been used to protect people fighting for civil rights and desegregation

In 1871, Congress reformed the Insurrection Act to allow the president to use military troops to enforce civil rights. 

That year, President Ulysses S. Grant sent in an army of 1,000 military soldiers to find and detain active members of the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina. By 1972, more than 600 Klan members had been detained, with most convicted in federal court, according to the Post.

In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce desegregation and protect nine black students as they entered Little Rock Central High School — an act that went against the wishes of the governor.

Selma

Federal Army troops guard civil rights marchers striding along route 80, the Jefferson Davis Highway during the Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March on March 25, 1965 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Stephen F. Somerstein/Getty Images


In 1962, President John F. Kennedy sent federal marshals to Mississippi after the governor tried to prevent a black student from enrolling in classes at the University of Mississippi at Oxford, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

The marshals were met with resistance from state police forces and rioters, so Kennedy ordered for the federalization of the Mississippi National Guard and commanded active Army troops to move in. Kennedy was able to use the Insurrection Act by declaring the state’s resistance as an unlawful assembly, since it directly violated a court order.

Desegregation of University of Mississippi

A US Army convoy moves past fraternity houses at the University of Mississippi as marshals arrive to enforce a Federal Court allowing African American James Meredith to enroll at the university.

Getty Images


In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent members of the army and federalized National Guard to protect civil rights marchers who were headed from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery.

The Act has been used to suppress protests before

But the Insurrection Act has also been used to suppress protests in an aggressive manner.

In 1967, Johnson sent in the US army to help quell the Detroit uprising — a five-day standoff between law enforcement and protesters fighting against police brutality and institutional racism.

Nearly 2,000 army paratroopers were sent to Detroit with tanks and armored cars. Forty-three people were killed and 7,000 were arrested.

Army troops during detroit riots

Army paratroopers move into Detroit from nearby Selfridge Air Force Base during the riots of 1967.

Getty Images


The next year, Johnson deployed federal troops to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore after protests erupted following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Both protest movements were a result of deep-rooted racial injustice and a collective action to fight back, Heather Ann Thompson, a professor of history and Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, told Vox.

The use of military force and heavy police presence failed to address the actual problems at hand, Thompson explained — and the way authorities are responding to the current protests over Floyd’s killing is following the same pattern.

“If you have 75+ cities burning, what does it say that from the leadership at every level, the only response has been more police? They’re deploying the National Guard and more police rather than imagining a different model, like peacekeeping forces, working with community organizations to bring calm,” she told Vox.

“Think about the UN peacekeeping forces as a model as opposed to sending in the military, which only results in more violence and deaths.”

The Rodney King riots of 1992

Rodney King riots

Armed with machine guns and grenade launchers, National Guard soldiers hold a line on Crenshaw blvd. in South Central L.A. Los Angeles has undergone several days of rioting due to the acquittal of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King.

Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images


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The Insurrection Act was last used in 1992, after the brutal police beating of Rodney King sparked protests in Los Angeles.

In 1991, four police officers were recorded savagely kicking and beating King with batons for over 15 minutes. The event led King to suffer from permanent brain damage, broken bones, and skull fractures. The nation watched as footage of the beating was televised across the country.

So when the four officers — three of whom were white — were acquitted for the crime a year later, people were outraged. Protests began after the verdict was announced, and throughout Los Angeles, residents set fires, looted, and damaged property.

The protests continued for five straight days and resulted in excessive police force. At the request of California Gov. Pete Wilson, President George George H.W. Bush sent in 4,500 federal troops.

By the end of the riots, 50 people had died, 10 of whom were killed by the LAPD and members of the National Guard, NPR reported. Another 2,000 people were injured, and 6,000 were arrested.

Is Trump’s threat to use the act serious?

national guardsmen los angeles george floyd protests

Members of California National Guard patrol, Sunday, May 31 in Los Angeles.

Ringo HW Chiu/AP Images


In order for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, he would first have to issue a proclamation ordering all protesters and insurgents to disperse.

So far, Trump has not issued a proclamation or specifically named the Insurrection Act in public. Additionally, no state governors have asked the president to deploy federal troops, and many have denounced the idea.

“Our goal, and the goal of the overwhelming number of protesters should be to reduce violence,” said Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon. “You don’t defuse violence by putting soldiers on our streets. Having soldiers on the streets across America is exactly what President Trump wants. He’s made that very clear on a call this morning.”

Rather than requesting federal law enforcement, many states across the nation have opted to send in the National Guard, which is a state-commanded entity.

Additionally, military veterans have scrutinized Trump’s call for a heavy-handed militant response, and many protesters have seen it as a violation of their Constitutional right to assemble.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper spoke in opposition to the use of active duty soldiers, calling it a “last resort.”

“The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” he said. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

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