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The Threat of Suspension of the Bill of Rights in America

What circumstances could cause the US Government to suspend the rights of its citizens, impose martial law, and run the country as a dictatorship? According to web-based pundits, the types of crises involved include:

  • The threat of imminent nuclear war,
  • Simultaneous rioting in multiple U.S. cites,
  • A national disaster (such as the outbreak of a new and deadly contagion) that presents an imminent danger to the general populous,
  • Widespread terrorist attacks on our own soil,
  • An economic depression that leaves tens of millions unemployed and without financial resources,
  • A major environmental disaster.


Under these circumstances, what kinds of rights and privileges would likely be suspended? For the answer to that question, it is educational to review the various executive orders that can be invoked by the Office of the President. Here are some of them:

  • #10990 enables the government to take over all modes of transportation and control of highways and seaports.
  • #10995 enables the government to seize and control the communication media.
  • #10997 enables the government to take over all electrical power, gas, petroleum, fuels and minerals, public and private.
  • #10998 enables the government to take over all food supplies and resources, public and private, including farms and equipment.
  • #11000 enables the government to mobilize American civilians into work brigades under government supervision; allows the government to split up families if they believe it necessary.
  • #11001 enables the government to take over all health, education and welfare functions and facilities, both public and private.
  • #11002 empowers the Postmaster General to operate a national registration of all persons: men, women and children, for government service.
  • # 11003 enables the government to take over all airports and aircraft, including commercial aircraft.
  • #11004 enables the Housing and Finance Authority to relocate communities, build new housing with public funds, designate areas to be abandoned as “unsafe”, and establish new locations for populations.
  • #11005 enables the government to take over railroads, inland waterways and storage facilities, public and private.
  • #11051 identifies the responsibilities of the Office of Emergency Planning and gives authorization to invoke all Executive Orders in times of heightened international tensions and economic or financial crisis.
  • #11310 grants authority to the Department of Justice to enforce the plans set out in Executive Orders, to institute industrial support, to establish judicial and legislative liaison, to control all aliens, to operate penal and correctional institutions, and to advise and assist the President.
  • #11049 assigns emergency preparedness function to federal departments and agencies, consolidating 21 operative Executive Orders issued over a fifteen-year period.
  • # 11921 allows the Federal Emergency Preparedness Agency to develop plans to establish control over the mechanisms of production and distribution, of energy sources, wages, salaries, credit and the flow of money in U.S. financial institution in any (undefined) national emergency. It also provides that when a state of emergency is declared by the President, Congress shall cannot review the action for six months.

In cases of true national emergency, many of the powers ascribed by these various executive orders are beneficial. For example, executive order #11002, which grants the Postmaster General authority to plan for a registration system, could be extremely beneficial in a scenario where an earthquake swallowed up all of St. Louis, and the families and friends of more than 2 million people were frantically trying to determine if their friends and loved ones had survived. However, the sweeping scope of the combination of these orders could result in a complete loss of the American way of life if they were abused. All it would require is for the President of the United States to invoke a state of national emergency. At that point, essentially all governmental authority would be under his immediate control. Then, at least for 6 months, a malefactor in that office could essentially maintain control as long as the perception of a national emergency could be maintained, and a lot of damage – some of it permanent – could be done.

Since 1979, a number of people have called the motives of creating these executive orders and the powers of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) into question. FEMA was created in 1979 under Presidential Memorandum 32 authored for President Carter by Professor Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor and former FEMA Advisory Board chairman. In a document written for the Trilateral Commission in the mid-1970s, Huntington described democracy and economic development as outdated ideas. As co-author of another report prepared for the Trilateral Commission, The Crisis of Democracy, Huntington also wrote:

“We have come to recognize that there are potential desirable limits to economic growth. There are also potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy. A government which lacks authority will have little ability short of cataclysmic crisis to impose on its people the sacrifices which may be necessary.” Huntington’s assertions were transposed into National Security Decision Directive #47 (NSDD47), which was enacted in July 1982. This law laid the groundwork for Emergency Mobilization Preparedness, a plan under which many legal constraints would be waived in the event of a national emergency. This plan was further strengthened in Public Law 101-647, signed into law in November 1990.

Essentially, when the President declares a national emergency (for any reason), FEMA can then implement Executive Orders 10995 through 11005. These Executive Orders permit a takeover by FEMA of local, state, and national governments and the suspension of constitutional guarantees. ( Diana Reynolds authored a series of articles on this topic in 1990. At the time she was a Program Director at the Edward R. Murrow Center at Tufts University. She was also an Assistant Professor of Politics, Bradford College and a Lecturer at Northeastern Univeristy. Among the things she said ( )
“FEMA will have the authority to exert any sort of control that it deems necessary over the American public. A national state of emergency can be declared by a concurrent resolution of both houses of Congress or by the President in the case of natural disasters, nuclear war, a massive mobilization in anticipation of an enemy attack on U.S. territory, or domestic civil unrest.” She also said: ““The scenarios established to trigger FEMA into action are generally found in the society today, economic collapse, civil unrest, drug problems, terrorist attacks, and protests against American intervention in a foreign country. All these premises exist; it could only be a matter of time in which one of these triggers the entire emergency necessary to bring FEMA into action, and then it may be too late, because under the FEMA plan, there is no contingency by which Constitutional power is restored.” Conservative activist Howard J. Ruff agreed, and wrote: “The only thing standing between us and a dictatorship is the good character of the President and the lack of a crisis severe enough that the public would stand still for it.” (

So what is the danger that a highly skilled, manipulative and malevolent person could win a Presidential election, and utilize (or even orchestrate) a national disaster to achieve dictatorial control over the United States of America? It’s impossible to say, but when I consider this question, I cannot help but recall a partial list of things that the American public was willing to accept in the background of their current President, including his proud and close association with a pastor who for 20 years proclaimed that God should “damn America”, his association with unrepentant anarchist and bomber William Ayers, his close ties to the organization ACORN (which was later exposed as willing participants to tax evasion and under-age prostitution), and who presided over an administration so determined to get a nationalized health care bill into law that they openly bribed representatives for their votes (the “Louisiana Purchase” and “Cornhusker Kickback”.) Is it unreasonable to assume that this level of deliberate myopia on the part of the left, and apathy and naïveté’ on the part of the right could also permit the country to fall victim to such an individual? I think not. Still, these facts demonstrate only America’s vulnerability; not the likelihood of such an event.

The factors that make this scenario less likely include the vigilance of our press, and the remaining number of US Government officials who are of sound character and sound mind. They represent the checks and balances – formal and informal – that really hold things together. Certainly, over recent years we have seen both of these elements weakened dramatically. Public polls reflecting approval ratings for Congress are abysmal, and for the President they are not much higher. President Obama has recently directed the Department of Justice to stop enforcing those laws that he does not believe to be constitutional (the Defense of Marriage Act), ignoring the express will of the populace and the legislative processes of the United States, and he seems to be getting away with it.

So in summary, the potential impact of this scenario if it occurs is absolutely devastating to the United States as we know it, and as it was designed to operate by our founding fathers. The probability that it will occur, in my estimation, is still low to medium, but is increasing day by day.

What do you think?

3 Responses to “The Threat of Suspension of the Bill of Rights in America”

  1. Louis Howe says:

    I pulled up Executive Order 11000, just as a test to see if this author knew what he was talking about. Frankly, it is hard to read that Order as “enables the government to mobilize American civilians into work brigades under government supervision; allows the government to split up families if they believe it necessary.” Mostly it was about research prior to a disaster to make sure we know what the ‘manpower’ needs would be and assess whether we will have enough people with the right skill sets to handle the situation. There is also much talk about paying people and about covering them for their time off and insuring their jobs remain safe while they are away. Agencies are supposed to cooperate with each other and with state and local governments. In other words, unless you read dastardly intentions in, this Executive Order sounds like there will be some sort of call for people to come help out; before the disaster people like the Red Cross will probably be lining up cadres of people who can be available on short notice (the Red Cross already does this, by the way, and they have plenty of people who WANT to be on the list).

    By the way, President Obama really IS following normal practices when he notifies Congress that the Justice Department will no longer defend the Marriage Act. Many presidents have done this. By notifying Congress, the president invites a legal challenge testing the law’s constitutionality. The president is NOT simply imposing his will; rather, he is submitting a controversy to the courts. By saying that in his opinion this law is unconstitutional and he will not enforce it, he offers the issue up for Congress to challenge him in the courts. If the Court declares the Act either constitutional or unconstitutional, then the president’s opinion on the matter gets replaced by an authoritative legal pronouncement. Either it will be okay to not enforce, or it will by required that he enforce it. This is the way the rule of law works. There is nothing shady about it at all.

    • Excellent counterpoints! I appreciate the feedback. My only rebuttal here is that whether it is deemed “the way the law works” or not, the President’s refusal to enforce the laws of the United States is not acceptable behavior in my eyes. Enforcing the law is the President’s responsibility. Period.

  2. Carl Webster says:

    I agree! Thanks for info.

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