Despotic Leadership Game Plan
January 26, 2020 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Has there ever been a study or a report (by someone like the Rand Corporation) that explains how a despotic American presidential administration would or could gradually move the US toward martial law. Or, second best, has there been a fiction novel that treated the same topic?
posted by CollectiveMind to Law & Government (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For fiction, It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 10:01 PM on January 26, 2020 [11 favorites]

Vox did an article on a 1951 study about the effectiveness of a 1943 anti-fascist propoganda film.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:05 PM on January 26, 2020

Martial Law and Constitutional Limitations (Justia)
Martial Law and Domestic Disorder.—President Washington himself took command of state militia called into federal service to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, but there were not too many occasions subsequently in which federal troops or state militia called into federal service were required.260

Since World War II, however, the President, by virtue of his own powers and the authority vested in him by Congress,261 has used federal troops on a number of occasions, five of them involving resistance to desegregation decrees in the South.262 In 1957, Governor Faubus employed the Arkansas National Guard to resist court-ordered desegregation in Little Rock, and President Eisenhower dispatched federal soldiers and brought the Guard under federal authority.263 In 1962, President Kennedy dispatched federal troops to Oxford, Mississippi, when federal marshals were unable to control with rioting that broke out upon the admission of an African American student to the University of Mississippi.264 In June and September of 1964, President Johnson sent troops into Alabama to enforce court decrees opening schools to blacks.265 And, in 1965, the President used federal troops and federalized local Guardsmen to protect participants in a civil rights march. The President justified his action on the ground that there was a substantial likelihood of domestic violence because state authorities were refusing to protect the marchers.266
Preventive Martial Law (Cornell LII)
The question of executive power in the presence of civil disorder is dealt with in modern terms in Moyer v. Peabody,755 to which the Debs case756 may be regarded as an addendum. Moyer, a labor leader, sued Peabody for having ordered his arrest during a labor dispute that had occurred while Peabody was governor of Colorado. Speaking for a unanimous Court (with one Justice absent), Justice Holmes said: “Of course the plaintiff ’s position is that he has been deprived of his liberty without due process of law. But it is familiar that what is due process of law depends on circumstances. It varies with the subject-matter and the necessities of the situation. . . . The facts that we are to assume are that a state of insurrection existed and that the Governor, without sufficient reason but in good faith, in the course of putting the insurrection down held the plaintiff until he thought that he safely could release him.”

“. . . In such a situation we must assume that he had a right under the state constitution and laws to call out troops, as was held by the Supreme Court of the State. . . . That means that he shall make the ordinary use of the soldiers to that end; that he may kill persons who resist and, of course, that he may use the milder measure of seizing the bodies of those whom he considers to stand in the way of restoring peace. Such arrests are not necessarily for punishment, but are by way of precaution to prevent the exercise of hostile power. So long as such arrests are made in good faith and in the honest belief that they are needed in order to head the insurrection off, the Governor is the final judge and cannot be subjected to an action after he is out of office on the ground that he had not reasonable ground for his belief.”

“. . . When it comes to a decision by the head of the State upon a matter involving its life, the ordinary rights of individuals must yield to what he deems the necessities of the moment. Public danger warrants the substitution of executive process for judicial process.”757
See Also George S. Wallace, The Need, the Propriety and the Basis of Martial Law, with a Review of the Authorities, 8 J. Am. Inst. Crim. L. & Criminology 406 (May 1917 to March 1918)
posted by katra at 10:05 PM on January 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

The New Republic had a decent article about this earlier this year. The Atlantic also had one.

I'm fairly certain the only president to impose martial law has been President Lincoln, which may be the opposite of what you're looking for.
posted by saeculorum at 10:06 PM on January 26, 2020

Fictional movie: The Siege.
posted by dobbs at 1:01 AM on January 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also fiction: The Plot Against America
posted by rd45 at 1:56 AM on January 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

There was actually a bill introduced to the house in 1933 that would "allow the presidency the unilateral authority to suspend congressional appropriations, abolish government departments, dismiss civil servants at his discretion, and reduce statutory appropriations and contractual payments, with Congress only able to check such measures with a two-thirds supermajority in both houses." It never passed, but it would have been a good start for the sort of scenario you're describing.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:32 AM on January 27, 2020

Robert Heinlein's "Revolt in 2100" contains references to Nehemiah Scudder, a fictional religious president-turned-dictator of the US. He had planned two novels around his rise to power but never wrote them. It's been a while since I've read them, so I don't recall how detailed it got into his rise, focusing more on overthrowing him.
posted by neilbert at 8:33 AM on January 27, 2020

The 1964 thriller Seven Days in May involved a plot by several of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to seize control from the US President (who had negotiated a disarmament treaty they distrusted) and impose marital law. The novel's plot begins when a Pentagon staff officer stumbles across a coded message discussing the conspiracy.

Much of the conspirators' plot revolved around an "exercise" to "practice" seizing control of America's communication network in an emergency. Prophetically, a right-wing broadcaster was part of the scheme, to justify the coup to the American people as the only source of news allowed.

The novel is mostly concerned with efforts by the staff officer, the President, and his trusted advisers to head off the coup attempt rather than the details of how the conspirators planned to run the country once it was accomplished, but it's an excellent thriller, made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.
posted by Gelatin at 7:22 AM on January 28, 2020

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