In 2006, the United States Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which, among other things, allowed for the president to declare martial law, take command of National Guard Units without state governor consent, and use military force to address domestic disturbance, acts of terrorism, insurrection, and civil unrest. The drastic expansion of powers this handed to a President of the US did not go unnoticed, and in 2008, the Act was revised in an attempt to reign in the potential abuse of such broad powers. Even with revision, the National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive, more commonly known as Executive Directive 51, has not been rescinded. With it, the approach to maintaining a functioning federal government, known under the term “continuity of government”, in the event of catastrophic social unrest, civic breakdown, and outside attack or disaster was centralized and militarized. With all this, the specter of martial law has since permeated the public consciousness, and since this time, the fear and accusations of tyrannical intent and potential of martial law have followed each successive administration.
At the time of recording this episode, the current president, Donald Trump, along with the first lady, and a cadre of staff and ranking personnel were tested positive for COVID-19 infection. Because of media focus on discussions of presidential succession plans and impacts on election debate schedules, the real question was not given attention. What happens if a substantial portion of government infrastructure becomes unable to function? And, if the public can be convinced to accept that their way of life was in jeopardy, would they be willing to concede their personal freedoms and liberties to a presumptively temporary martial structure of government to protect the future?
This time, as we begin our series titled “Bones of Tyranny”, we address Continuity of Government contingency operations.
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