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Civil Disturbances

Civil disturbances arise from acts of civil disobedience.

They occur most often when participants in mass acts of civil
disobedience become antagonistic toward authority, and
authorities must struggle to wrest the initiative from an unruly
crowd. In the extreme, civil disturbances include criminal acts of
terrorism. Civil disturbances, in any form, are prejudicial to
public law and order.


Under the US Constitution and the US and finds the resources not sufficient.
Code, the President is empowered to direct Usually, active-duty federal forces are used
federal intervention in civil disturbances to: to augment the requesting states National
Respond to state requests for aid in Guard. But the President may choose to
restoring order. federalize another states National Guard
and use them, alone or with other forces, to
Enforce the laws of the United States. restore order.
Protect the civil rights of citizens.
Protect federal property and functions. The President also can employ federal
troops to ensure the execution of US law
Under the Constitution, each state is when a state opposes or obstructs US law
responsible for protecting life and property or impedes the course of justice under those
within its boundaries. State and local laws. And the President can employ armed
governments use their civil forces to federal troops to suppress insurrection,
maintain law and order and to quell domestic violence, unlawful assemblies,
civil disturbances. However, if a civil and conspiracy if such acts deprive the
disturbance exceeds the resources of a people of their constitutional rights and
state, federal troops may be called upon to privileges and a states civil authorities
help restore and maintain law and order. cannot or will not provide adequate
The Constitution and federal statutes protection.
authorize the President to direct the use of The President is also authorized to use
federal armed troops within the 50 states, armed federal troops to protect federal
the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and property and functions when the need
US possessions and territories and their for protection exists and the local civil
political subdivisions. The President is also authorities cannot or will not give adequate
empowered to federalize the National protection. The right of the United States
Guard of any state to suppress rebellion to protect all federal property and functions
and enforce laws. regardless of their locations is an accepted
Federal aid is given to a state when the principle of our government.
state has used all of its resources, including As a temporary measure, federal military
its National Guard, to quell a disorder equipment and facilities may be loaned to

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state and local governmental bodies and requesting agencies are expected to provide
law enforcement agencies for use during enough resources of their own to minimize
civil disturbances. These resources may the need for US military resources. And the
also be loaned to a states National Guard loan of the resources must not conflict with
and to nonDOD federal agencies. The US military needs.

Civil disturbances may arise from a communitys relations with local police are
number of causes. Most often they arise part of the problem.
from political grievances, urban economic Significant cultural differences in a
conflicts and community unrest, terrorist community can create an atmosphere of
acts, or foreign influences. The event may distrust. Unrest among ethnic groups
be triggered by a single cause. Or it may competing for jobs can erupt into civil
arise from a combination of causes. disturbance. Sometimes a large group of
refugees resettles in one community,
Demonstrations of political grievances creating unrest in the community. If jobs
range from simple protests of specific are in short supply and refugees are taking
issues to full-scale civil disobedience. what jobs there are, feelings of animosity
Many forms of political protest, while can arise. As emotions run high, violence
disruptive, are not unlawful. These protests becomes likely.
may be spontaneous, but they generally
are planned events. They may even be Civil disturbances may be organized by
coordinated with local authorities. Most disaffected groups. These groups like to
protectors are law-abiding citizens. They embarrass the government. Or they may
intend their protests to be nonviolent. demonstrate as a cover for terrorism.
Violence occurs mainly when control forces Their goal is to cause an overreaction by
must try to contain a protest or arrest authorities. They think this will generate
protectors involved in civil disobedience. sympathy for their cause among the
The presence of agitators increases the general population. Foreign nations may
chance of violence. Agitators want to promote civil disturbances through sur-
provoke the control force into overreacting. rogate organizations. The surrogates
This embarrasses authorities. It can also involve themselves in activities that
gain media and public sympathy for the promote a particular nations interests.
protectors. Their actions may be quite overt. Some-
times they even conduct fund-raising and
membership drives. The surrogates
Urban conflicts and community unrest sponsors provide support in many ways.
arise from highly emotional social and The sponsors give money, organizational
economic issues. Economically deprived help, and moral support. They may also
inner-city residents may perceive them- help by training members of the surrogate
selves treated unjustly or ignored by the group in civil disobedience, vandalism,
people in power. Tension can build in a and agitation and manipulation of crowds
community over a variety of issues. Com- and media. Agents of foreign nations may
munity services and housing and labor influence civil disturbances. Agents infil-
issues are often disputed. Tension creates trate disaffected groups to increase their
the potential for violence. When tension is potential for violence. If they are successful
high, it takes only a minor incident or a and government forces overreact, the
rumor of an injustice to ignite a civil targeted government may be seen as
disturbance. This is particularly true if the repressive.

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Civil disturbances may arise from a Urban areas can be the scene of inner-
symbolic of a grievance, near the cause of a city conflicts, labor disputes, and political
grievance, or close at hand to an aggrieved struggles. Disturbances in urban areas
crowd. Examples of such places are nuclear are usually fueled by aggrieved members
weapons facilities or power plants, in of the community. However, an urban area
urban areas, at refugee camps, or at having symbolic value to a particular
government facilities. Nuclear weapons group may be the stage used by outside
facilities and power plants are subject to demonstrators to draw attention to their
demonstrations by anti-nuclear activists. cause.
These activists demonstrate at places they
know or think are used to develop, build, Refugee and resettlement camps can
transport, or store nuclear weapons or their become the focus of a civil disturbance.
parts. The facilities can belong to federal Large numbers of refugees entering the US
agencies or to businesses with DOD con- in mass are often placed temporarily in
tracts. Active involvement with nuclear refugee camps until they can be resettled.
weapons is not necessary. Past involve- Resettlement can be a slow and difficult
ment or the activists belief of past process. The boredom, frustration, and
involvement can make the facilities targets other stresses refugees experience in these
for demonstrations. Nuclear power plants camps can create tensions that may erupt
are also targets of environmentalists and into violence. And agitators may infiltrate
other activist groups. The plants are seen refugee camps to exploit these tensions in
as dangers to society and the environment. ways that will embarrass the US.
Demonstrations at plants or plant con-
struction sites may be held to try to inter- Demonstrations at US government
fere with plant operations. facilities are not limited to those in the US.
US facilities in foreign nations can be
US government facilities like recruiting locations of civil disturbances. DOD instal-
offices, federally-leased buildings, ROTC lations, US embassies, and US consulates
buildings, and federal courthouses also in foreign nations are favorite targets of
can be the targets of demonstrations. A demonstrators. DOD installations in
government facility may be targeted simply foreign nations are often scenes of protests
because a protesting group attaches a against US foreign policies. The actual
symbolic value to, or perceives a connection installation and its mission may or
with, a protested policy. This is especially may not be the true target. Often the
true of anti-war and anti-nuclear protest installation is just used as a highly visible
groups. They may choose a facility because symbol of US government. American
they see it as the source of their grievance. embassies and consulates also are subject
Or they may target a facility because the to disturbances. They too are highly
people working there are seen as having visible, concrete representations of the US
the power to address the groups grievance. government.


The mission of the military forces in a is the responsibility of state and local
civil disturbance is to help local authorities governments and law enforcement authori-
restore law and order. The preservation of ties. The preservation of law and order
law and order in the civilian community on the federal property of a military

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installation is the responsibility of the flexible and selective in their responses.

installation commander and military law A commander must select the option that
enforcement authorities. The military is the best response to a given civil
performs civil disturbance operations in disturbance in that specific physical and
support of these local authorities. Most psychological environment. He must be
often the military is used to disperse able to both reduce the intensity of the
unauthorized assemblages and to patrol confrontation and restore order.
disturbed areas to prevent unlawful acts. In all contacts with the civilian popu-
Military forces may be used to maintain lation and the participants of the disturb-
the mechanics of essential distribution, ance, military forces must display fair and
transportation, and communications impartial treatment. And they must ad-
systems. Military forces are also used to here to the principle of minimum force.
make a show of force, set up roadblocks, Whenever possible, civil police apprehend,
cordon off areas, disperse crowds, release process, and detain civil-law violators.
riot control agents, and serve as security Military forces perform these functions
forces or reserves, And the military may be only when necessity dictates and only to
tasked to initiate needed relief measures. the minimum extent required. These
functions are returned to civil authorities
The commitment of military forces to as soon as possible. When military forces
civil disturbance control operations does have achieved enough order to allow the
not automatically give these forces police local authorities to resume control, the
power. The police power of military forces militarys mission is accomplished and
is bound by legal constraints as well as their active role in controlling the dis-
humanitarian consideration. Only the turbance ends.
degree of force reasonably needed in a
circumstance is permitted. All military As the disturbance subsides, the com-
leaders and planners must be familiar mander takes steps to restore control to
with the laws, regulations, and policies the civil authorities. The control force
that govern military involvement in civil gradually reduces the number and scope of
disturbances. They must know the laws its operations and begins removing its
and policies that have a direct impact on equipment from the area. But the control
military civil disturbance control plans and force takes care not to give the impression
actions. Those laws and policies dictate that all controls have been removed.
how the military can and should act when Withdrawal is not immediate. That would
controlling a civil disturbance. create the impression of abandonment
and could lead to a resurgence of the
Military control force commanders must disturbance. The control force gradually
know what options are available to them. withdraws in a phased return of control to
Commanders must be able to be highly civil authorities.