It has been widely reported that President Trump made angry statements during the protests after the killing of George Floyd, and that he supported violent quelling of the protest in Lafayette Park. (After that violent suppression, he famously strolled with a highest-level entourage to a nearby church to be photographed holding a bible ). But it has only come out this Friday night, from former aides, that from what he had been saying, they had actually prepared an Insurrection Act proclamation for him. They particularly wanted it ready if the city’s mayor resisted taking the measures he wanted.
Trump knew the document had been prepared, according to a former senior administration official. He chose not to use it, but he continued to bring up the idea of deploying active-duty troops in major cities. The accounts about his intentions fit with a forthcoming book by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender, published by CNN, that says that during these weeks Trump repeatedly urged top military and law enforcement officials to confront the protesters physically.
That specific legal instrument, a proclamation under the Insurrection Act, deserves recall as to its past use to show the extraordinary difference between what Trump and his aides were preparing to do and the way other Presidents, Republican and Democratic, had made cautious and special use of its authority.
The Insurrection Act of 1807, as amended, empowers the President to deploy U.S. military and federalized National Guard troops against an insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination or conspiracy which results in the deprivation of constitutionally secured rights, and where the state is unable, fails, or refuses to protect said rights. The wording reflects particular amendments during and after the Civil War. It was revised for use, first in 1861 against the Confederacy, and in 1871 against the Ku Klux Klan.
The act itself says the President shall “call into Federal service” those he needs, and the term “call” is why the legal instrument is a proclamation.
The act’s limits are so respected, that during George W. Bush’s presidency, at first it was considered for use in Hurricane Katrina. Soon after, it was briefly amended to permit military intervention despite refusal by a state which had the situation in hand. A few months later, all fifty state governors issued a joint statement against it, and the changes were repealed in January 2008.
It was famously invoked by President Eisenhower in 1957 to quell white resistance in Little Rock, Arkansas, to the desegregation of the high school by the Little Rock Nine.
Then it was used by President Kennedy in 1962-63 in Mississippi and Alabama to deal with other violent resistance to desegregation of educational institutions.
President Lyndon B Johnson had to use it in 1967-68 for race riots.
George H.W. Bush use it for the Los Angeles riots in 1992. But apart from his two uses of it, until Trump, it had not been used from President Johnson’s day to now.