Pentagon (Maybe) On Alert to Stabilize Minneapolis

The President has reportedly invoked the Insurrection Act.

The Associated Press‘ James Laporta (“Pentagon puts military police on alert to go to Minneapolis“):

As unrest spread across dozens of American cities on Friday, the Pentagon took the rare step of ordering the Army to put several active-duty U.S. military police units on the ready to deploy to Minneapolis, where the police killing of George Floyd sparked the widespread protests.

Soldiers from Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Drum in New York have been ordered to be ready to deploy within four hours if called, according to three people with direct knowledge of the orders. Soldiers in Fort Carson, in Colorado, and Fort Riley in Kansas have been told to be ready within 24 hours. The people did not want their names used because they were not authorized to discuss the preparations.

Laporta is a highly-respected reporter, so I take this seriously. Still, the vagueness of the sourcing is odd. Are these low-level MPs? Senior leaders?

Or maybe someone in the administration who, rightly, thinks this is a reckless act?

The get-ready orders were sent verbally on Friday, after President Donald Trump asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper for military options to help quell the unrest in Minneapolis after protests descended into looting and arson in some parts of the city.

Trump made the request on a phone call from the Oval Office on Thursday night that included Esper, National Security Advisor Robert O’ Brien and several others. The president asked Esper for rapid deployment options if the Minneapolis protests continued to spiral out of control, according to one of the people, a senior Pentagon official who was on the call.

One hopes this is shorthand. While Esper is a West Point graduate with some military experience. one hopes he wasn’t being asked to—much less responded with—a set of military options on the spot. That’s a job for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

And, indeed, we get some hint at that here:

“When the White House asks for options, someone opens the drawer and pulls them out so to speak.” the official said.

The person said the military units would be deployed under the Insurrection Act of 1807, which was last used in 1992 during the riots in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King trial.

Actually, it was used to beef up airport security after the 9/11 attacks as well. Still, it’s an extraordinary decision reserved for all but the gravest situations. Usually, if local authorities can’t handle it, the state police are called in. If they can’t handle it, the state National Guard gets involved under the governor’s authority. Occasionally, usually in response to natural disaster, they’re activated under Title 32 so that the Federal government, not the state, pays for it.

“If this is where the president is headed response-wise, it would represent a significant escalation and a determination that the various state and local authorities are not up to the task of responding to the growing unrest,” said Brad Moss, a Washington D.C.-based attorney, who specializes in national security.

Right. Now, again, the details are murky. This may be simply the President acting as a toddler, as is his wont. But it could also be simply a standby order: this could get out of control and we need active forces ready to deploy on very, very short order.

And the fact that it’s Military Police, not tanks and infantry, being put on alert is of some comfort and would make me lean toward the latter, more benign interpretation.

But a Pentagon spokesman said Walz did not ask for the Army to be deployed to his state.

“The Department has been in touch with the Governor and there is no request for Title 10 forces to support the Minnesota National Guard or state law enforcement,” the spokesman said, Title 10 is the U.S. law that governs the armed forces, and would authorize active duty military to operate within the U.S.

Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications, said the deployment of active-duty military police is untrue.

“False: off the record – title 10 not under discussion,” said Farah in an email response. No off-record agreement was negotiated with The Associated Press.

Sadly, the record of the White House press office under this administration is such that a denial makes the story more likely to be true. (But, of course, if it’s actually untrue, they’d deny it too. Little boys crying wolf and all that.)

The three officials with direct knowledge of the potential deployment say the orders are on a classified system, known as the Secret Internet Protocol Router or SIPR for short.

Deployment orders would always be on SIPR; that’s just standard operating procedure. So there’s nothing nefarious about that.

Active-duty forces are normally prohibited from acting as a domestic law enforcement agency. But the Insurrection Act offers an exception.

The Act would allow the military to take up a policing authority it otherwise would not be allowed to do, enforcing state and federal laws, said Stephen Vladeck, a University of Texas School of Law professor who specializes in constitutional and national security law.

The statute “is deliberately vague” when it comes to the instances in which the Insurrection Act could be used, he said. The state’s governor could ask President Donald Trump to take action or Trump could act on his own authority if he’s determined that the local authorities are so overwhelmed that they can’t adequately enforce the law, Vladeck said.

“It is a very, very broad grant of authority for the president,” he added.


For understandable reasons, our system is designed to allow Presidents extraordinary authority when they deem a threat to the national security or to basic law and order exist. There are, for example, no real safeguards on a President’s ability to order the deployment of nuclear weapons. The system simply relies on the voters to elect competent men to the office or a consensus of the Vice President, cabinet, and Congressional leadership that he’s unfit and must be removed.

And, to pile on a bit to my condemnation of mob violence even in response to justified outrage at a broken system, this is part of the reason why. The arguments supporting a right to riot when all other means have failed are essentially the same as those for a rebellion. And, hell, this country was founded on rebellion. But the response to a rebellion is inevitably to send in the army.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, Policing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    The violence started with the police. It was stoked by the racist culture of this country. The riots are a violent reaction to that initiating violence.

    How many of your family or friends would have to be killed while the powers that be remained indifferent before you would grab a baseball bat and start smashing things?

    The worry now is that we’re doing a version of the 1960’s-70’s, and what started with a black reaction to racism might become a larger societal reaction. And it’s not entirely silly to wonder if it’s not the 1960’s but the 1860’s.

    Last night I texted my eldest daughter and reminded her that her grandfather, then an army officer, volunteered to help me emigrate to Canada rather than be drafted for the Vietnam war. I offered to help her leave this sad, sick country and go live somewhere sane. She demurred, as I did in my time, but did not reject the suggestion.

    By all means, bring on the National Guard. It worked so well on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University.

  2. CSK says:

    At base, this is about Trump’s terror of looking weak and ineffectual.

    “The system simply relies on the voters to elect competent men to the office…” Well, the voters blew it in 2016, didn’t they?

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The violence started with the police. It was stoked by the racist culture of this country. The riots are a violent reaction to that initiating violence.

    Again, we’re in agreement on that. I agree that their anger is justified. I just disagree that violence is justified. If it’s a rebellion, it’s going to be put down.

    By all means, bring on the National Guard. It worked so well on May 4, 1970, at Kent State University.

    As I noted in a related conversation on Twitter yesterday, that was literally half a century ago. The National Guard of today shares only a name with the National Guard of 1970. Then, it was mostly a bunch of local yokels avoiding service in Vietnam. For the last 30 years or so, it has been an integral part of the Total Force, routinely being deployed to combat alongside their active duty counterparts.

    That’s not to say a scared private couldn’t over-react and lead to tragedy. But the Guard is the go-to force for state governors in times of crisis.

  4. Mu Yixiao says:

    In Florida, a South-African immigrant is standing by to launch Americans into space for the first time in a decade–and for the first time ever on a private vehicle.

    In Washington, a xenophobic child is preparing to send US troops against their fellow citizens with the phrase “the shooting starts” still echoing.

  5. KM says:

    Ummm, James? Have you seen the video of the fully-kitted out cop shooting straight at the reporter’s camera? The paint pellet went right through the lens, meaning it was aimed at the cameraperson’s *head*. It wasn’t even an knee-jerk reaction as the video show him pointing at them for almost a minute before pulling the trigger. He fired on people not actively doing anything wrong – they had the nerve to be filming and were clearly media with that kind of camera. That’s the imagery were going to be seeing a LOT more if the National Guard shows up. It’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.

    Yes, the National Guard has progressed and trained with their military counterparts. They’ve upgraded their gear, their tactics and their training….. just like cops have. 50 years ago the cop wouldn’t have been cosplaying as military but would have been just as pissy for someone daring to not obey him. Police forces around the country are full of authoritarian assholes like this – what makes you think the National Guard will be any better? Don’t get me wrong as I’m fond of the Guard with several friends and co-workers proud to have joined. However, I’m no fool and have no reason to think that they don’t have the same problem the military and police have.

    If Trump sends the Guard, there *will* be incidents and it will likely cost him several Midwestern states. A reason Kent State still reverberates is because it proved it could happen there; that violence and police brutality could affect white, middle-class folks who were just protesting. This is happening in cities across the country, not just the “big urban” ones. How many people are going to appreciate Military Lite rollin’ into town and threatening them into compliance? As we’ve seen, distinctions aren’t being made between protesters and others so you could be minding your own business and get the barrel of a paint gun in your face. How’s that gonna fly with on-the-fence Republicans out West?

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    I guess we’re going to see whether white America does its usual knee-jerk, respect authoritah reaction, or whether people will start to realize that we have serious problems in this country and have to start taking serious action. As long as the cops are beating, jailing or killing black people white reaction will rarely exceed a concerned ‘tsk tsk.’ But in this environment I’m not at all sure that gunning down some white college kids would change anything in the political equation.

  7. James Joyner says:

    @KM: The governor called out the National Guard three days ago. This is about active duty MPs.

  8. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Frankly, I think your basic Cult45 devotee would be totally thrilled to see some white college kids gunned down. Everybody knows they’re a bunch of Commie liberal snowflakes.

    Funny how the MAGAts don’t mind that their hero loves to boast about having gone to a “top” Ivy League university, which under any other circumstance would qualify him as a liberal elitist snowflake.

  9. Kathy says:

    What rebellion?

    As far as I know, no one in Minnesota is trying to either overthrow or take over the local or state government, nor throw out the federal government.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    And so it starts. The story describes someone in a Dodge Durango pulling up and firing into a crowd of black protestors, killing at least one.

    The sick and depraved gun culture and the feckless reaction to armed thugs storming state capitols has made this inevitable. It will get much much worse, as they know Trump and national a Republicans have their back.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: Several commenters in other posts related to this incident have invoked the right to rebel against an unjust system.

    This is either a rebellion, in which case the state needs to put it down with force, or it’s mob violence, in which case they need to be arrested. There is no third option where this is justified and they get to carry on because they’re sick and tired of a failed system.

  12. Stormy Dragon says:

    @James Joyner:

    There is no third option where this is justified and they get to carry on because they’re sick and tired of a failed system.

    Our entire nation was founded on the principle that carrying on because we’re sick and tired of a failed system is justified.

    That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

  13. JKB says:

    Once this started spreading to other states, a briefing of the options for the President was logical. Not to mention, news reports of the Insurrection Act being invoked would get the MN governor and Minneapolis mayor out of their “maybe they”ll go away after they burn everything’ mode of police stand downs and very light NG activation. We shall see if that worked when we see whether they enforce the curfew tonight.

    Now an FBI agent has been gunned down. They’ve burned USPS vehicles and a post office, creating a federal nexus for investigation. All that has to be done is to link the outside agitators, likely Antifa, coordinating across state lines and it literally makes a federal case out of it. And they “smartly” put themselves in the Secret Service sights last night out side the White House. First order is to quell the riots, but long term it is to run down the outside agitators coordinating across state lines with the full force of the DoJ.

    As it is, if the MPs are on alert, that only impacts leave and liberty. It doesn’t require anything from the President other than to order the MPs be ready if he does take action.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    The system is and has been making violent war against African-Americans in this country.

    Black people smoke crack? Kick in their doors, terrify their children, drag them into the street and lock them up. White people smoke meth? Oh, no, we need treatment for these poor victims, this isn’t crime, this is a health issue.

    We have a for-profit prison system in which white Republicans get rich locking up black and brown men.

    46% of their fellow Americans voted for a white supremacist who openly panders to racists and encourages violence as a path to re-election.

    Large segments of the white population ignore Covid-19 precisely because it has a disparate impact on minorities, and the president of the United States and his white supremacist party laugh.

    Everywhere white people are stocking up on semi-automatic weapons and huge caches of ammo, the purpose of which is unmistakably to slaughter black people when they get their longed-for race war.

    The US government refuses to deal with white terrorism in this country. A black church is shot up and nothing is done. A black man minding his own damn business walks through a construction site and is hunted down and murdered and prosecutors’ first reaction is to let it go.

    There are still monuments to the slaving traitors of the Confederacy. A black man walking through any town in the South and a great many in the North, will daily confront the racist symbology of the Confederacy.

    And everywhere police forces have become predators who attack, degrade and murder black men with absolute impunity.

    I’ll ask again: how many of your friends and family and neighbors would have to beaten or murdered with absolute impunity, as society ignored your pleas for justice, as the federal government cheered on the killers, before you decided you’d had enough and were ready to burn something down?

    The only time white America gives a single shit is when there’s violence committed by blacks. The other 360 days of the year white America turns a blind eye. When you leave people no peaceful path to justice, when the choices come down to either submitting or pushing back, people will push back.

  15. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is either a rebellion, in which case the state needs to put it down with force, or it’s mob violence, in which case they need to be arrested. There is no third option where this is justified and they get to carry on because they’re sick and tired of a failed system.

    Perhaps the third option has nothing to do with whether they are justified to carry on, but is simply a matter of harm reduction.

    Which causes greater damage in a dangerous situation, a hard reaction or letting people blow off steam and accepting some property damage? The hard reaction will result in people dying.

    Police violence is not going to make protests about police violence disappear — not without so much violence that it’s going to radicalize some protesters and make them angrier and smarter about violence. Someone will start hunting police.

  16. Michael Reynolds says:


    Now an FBI agent has been gunned down.

    Not an FBI agent, actually, a Federal Protective Services officer. Shooter unknown at this time. Although surely the shooter is ‘they.’

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That was literally a declaration of armed rebellion issued months into a shooting war.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I‘ve been writing about much of that for years, as evidenced in my round-up post this morning. But if this turns into a shooting war, it’s going to get uglier, not better.

  19. JKB says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Yes, I got taken in by some “fake”, or at least erroneous news from the mainstream. I’ve since seen those particulars. Still an FBI case.

  20. Michael Reynolds says:


    Yes, I got taken in by some “fake”, or at least erroneous news from the mainstream.

    I’d be grateful if you were to provide a link to mainstream media making that claim, because I was not able to find any mainstream reports but those which correctly identified the victim as an FPS officer.

    Still an FBI case.

    The FBI, overseen by the corrupt toady, Bill Barr, working for a racist President who is busy pouring gas on the fire because he knows that race-baiting encourages people like you.

  21. mattbernius says:


    Yes, I got taken in by some “fake”, or at least erroneous news from the mainstream.

    Man, it is never your fault is it? It has to suck to be so insecure to never be able to say “I was wrong, my bad.”

  22. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is either a rebellion, in which case the state needs to put it down with force, or it’s mob violence, in which case they need to be arrested.

    Does the increasing number of reports and footage of white folks doing a lot of the damage change your opinions here?

    And to be clear, I’m not trying to imply that you are more ok with a massive police response against black folks*, but the fact that they are white and some of those arrested are connected to white nationalists is pretty good evidence that they are trying to provoke that heavy police response.

    *: I mean, there’s a little of that too, at a subconscious level. It’s easy to “other” people who don’t look like us, and then dismiss it as “other people’s problems.” I suspect I am as guilty of that as anyone else. In my case, I see all of this and support the folks fighting the good fight while I have no direct stake in the matter — my opinion might change if they were riots in my sleepy neighborhood on the north side of Seattle.

  23. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: I’m not watching any of this unfold on TV, so I’m mostly just getting reports from NYT, WaPo, and whatever pops up of Google News. I’m prepared to attribute the violence to outside agitators if that’s where the evidence points.

  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    He wasn’t wrong, I believe he was lying. He knew ‘FPS officer’ wouldn’t carry the emotional impact of, ‘FBI agent’, so he lied.

  25. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    It is what i said it was yesterday: people pushed too far and ignored for too long, protesting in a way that won’t be ignored. It’s justified anger finding an outlet.

    The current pandemic lets you have a taste of the feeling you may be irreparably harmed today, and every day, merely by going about your business, and for having to take precautions just so you can go about your business. Or it would if you are not in lockdown. African Americans live like this every day for as many years as they stay alive.

  26. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: Watch this and see if you think the man is a random protester.

    I would not trust the twitter identification of this man, but he doesn’t strike me as your run of the mill member of the community who is upset about police violence and acting out in a fit of passion.

    I don’t know how much of the destruction is being carried out by folks people this, But there is at least some.

  27. CSK says:

    That is just bizarre. Not just bizarre: disturbing.

  28. Gustopher says:

    Meanwhile in Seattle, the Mayor announced a curfew taking effect at 5:00pm,and empowering the police to arrest anyone found on the streets after that time.

    This was announced at 4:46pm.

    The busses and light rail are shut down. So, 14 minutes to teleport(?) out of downtown before the police start busting more heads and macing more children.

    Oh, yes, they maced a 12 year old girl. Because they do these things.

    It was a safe enough protest to bring the family to before the police began overreacting.

    Our mayor was endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, if you know what I mean. She’s rather friendly with the police union, and more a fan of the order part of law and order.

  29. Gustopher says:

    Also, our Mayor used “disburse” instead of “disperse” and then misspelled Seattle in her next tweet.


  30. Gustopher says:

    Angry black folks in Rochester are overturning cars and wielding crow bars.

    Oh, wait, they aren’t black at all. My mistake. They seem to be using the BLM protests as cover for their own agenda. Perhaps to provoke a response that will ensnare the protest, perhaps just to break things for fun.

    Toss in some shitty policing, and you will have a powder keg.

  31. Kathy says:

    My most immediate concern about these protests is what they’ll do to the spread of SARS-CoV2.

  32. Scott O says:

    @Gustopher: I seem to be seeing a good number of white people in the videos that show looting or violence, apparently not fearing for their lives. Rod Dreher’s latest’s has a couple of good examples. A cardboard sign with rather good art work equating police with Nazis and wishing them dead held up by a white hand. Later there is video of white guys trying to pull down the statue of the former mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo.

    At this point I’m not sure what to think. I’m 63 now, not the least bit interested in doing any looting but I can envision the 19 year old me out on the streets late at night looking for some excitement and if others are grabbing stuff I probably would too. For the thrill. And I could have ended up in a video on the web, a young white guy in there causing trouble. But it would have been due to cluelessness and hormones, not a desire to support any kind of agenda.

  33. Ken_L says:

    But the response to a rebellion is inevitably to send in the army.

    That’s fine. The rebellion will be put down, or not. In many instances in history, the army declined to do it. Either way it will lead to social transformation, hopefully of a kind that resolves the causes of the rebellion. If not, expect another one sooner or later. Countless countries have experienced these cycles over the centuries; it’s the reason most of the world now enjoys infinitely more social justice than our distant ancestors.

    Telling people to refrain from violent protest because it might turn nasty is simply postponing the day of reckoning in the fond hope something unexpected might turn up.

  34. rachel says:

    @Ken_L: This is what it comes to eventually:

    There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
    -Mario Savio

  35. Gustopher says:

    And on the subject of incompetent policing…

    2 protesters(?) take assault weapons from Seattle PD car, and are disarmed at gunpoint by the local news crew’s security guard. So many questions.

    Seattle has a long history of police being careless with assault weapons. Like setting them on the roof of the car, then getting in and driving off.

  36. Gustopher says:

    Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, a guy who probably had his guns taken away at some point has a bow.

    I’m hoping he gets acquainted with our criminal justice system. Cops did not protect his car.

  37. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “There is no third option where this is justified and they get to carry on because they’re sick and tired of a failed system.”

    Then maybe it’s time for someone to come up with a third option. Unless you can explain how either of your first two options are actually going to solve the bigger problem and keep this from happening again and again and again.

    Also: How big a percentage of the nation’s citizenry are you prepared to jail? Because there seem tens of thousands of people protesting all across the country. Are mass incarcerations going to bring peace to our cities?

  38. wr says:

    @JKB: “They’ve burned USPS vehicles and a post office, creating a federal nexus for investigation.”

    The world according to JKB: Burn a couple of post office vehicles, you’re a thug and we’ve got to set the army on you.

    Destroy the entire postal service so your rich friends can make billions off privatized mail service, you’re the greatest president in history.

  39. wr says:

    @Gustopher: “It was a safe enough protest to bring the family to before the police began overreacting.”

    Hey, if they wanted to be safe while protesting they should have had the foresight to be fat white men armed with automatic weapons whining about being deprived of their right to spread disease wherever they want to.

  40. DrDaveT says:

    Whatever happened to “This isn’t the federal government’s job; it’s up to the states to handle these things”?

  41. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah. And you live in the Queen City of the Left Coast. Imagine what it would be like if Seattle wasn’t so liberal and didn’t have a “radical socialist” mayor.

    ETA: I saw three plain clothes white cops breaking windows. Two didn’t even realize their badge was showing. One was breaking windows with a police baton. 2 males and 1 female.

    We simply have to do better at recruiting “bad cops.” This is shameful! 😐