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.