What is martial law?
Increase in COVID-19-related rules, curfews has led to circulation of rumors surrounding martial law
Martial law is a term that describes the government order of replacing civil rule with the military in a time of war or emergency.
Civilian courts are closed and effectively moot, and military justice takes over.
In the United States, the president must order for the establishment of martial law, which would in turn transfer power into the hands of the army. But the change in power must only last through the duration of the emergency, according to Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute.
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At least 4,138 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 71 related deaths had been reported in the United States as of 2:45 p.m. Monday, according to Johns Hopkins' Coronavirus Resource Center.
As new coronavirus continues to spread across the nation, local and state governments have, in some places, established curfews or ordered public places to limit their occupancy or close up shop altogether. On the federal level, President Trump has issued a ban on all travel between the U.S. and Europe, most recently including the UK and Ireland.
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But the increase in rules has also led to the circulation of rumors about the establishment of a COVID-19-spurred martial law. The term was trending on Twitter, though using incorrect spelling: “marshall” law.
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Another hoax claimed Trump would institute a nationwide quarantine by invoking the Stafford Act. Formally known as the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, it gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency permission to use $50 billion in disaster relief funds, according to Rolling Stone, which included a screenshot of one of the bogus text messages the circulated.
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Trump has previously discussed his use of certain components of the Stafford Act in responding to COVID-19, which was recently declared a pandemic.
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The National Security Council spoke out against the hoax on Sunday, calling the text message rumors “fake” and insisting, “There is no national lockdown.”
A similar rumor – this time, about martial law – circulated on social media at the end of January 2020, claiming that FEMA was proposing martial law to contain the outbreak of a viral respiratory illness spreading around the world. FEMA later denounced the claims as false.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.