Army Vet Lawmaker: Invoke Insurrection Act, Deploy Active-Duty Troops to Riots

Members of California National Guard patrol, , May 31, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Members of California National Guard patrol, Sunday, May 31, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, called on President Donald Trump on Monday to invoke the Insurrection Act, then deploy active-duty combat units to "show no quarter" in putting down violence and looting in major cities, which he charged have been instigated by left-wing extremists.

State governors thus far have not asked for the help of active-duty troops. But Cotton said a massive show of force by the 101st Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Infantry Division -- "whatever it takes to restore order" -- might be necessary.

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"We always respect the rights of peaceful protesters," said Cotton, a former Army captain and Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, but "we have zero tolerance for anarchy, rioting and looting."

In a series of tweets and an appearance on the "Fox & Friends" program, Cotton echoed others in the Trump administration, including Attorney General William Barr, in blaming the violence on leftist extremists such as the antifa movement. He appeared to challenge antifa, the far-left militant group, to a fight.

"If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let's see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they're facing off with the 101st Airborne Division," Cotton said on Twitter. "We need to have zero tolerance for this destruction."

Under the federal Posse Comitatus Act, the use of active-duty troops for domestic law enforcement is generally banned, but there are exceptions that require the specific request of state governors.

Cotton urged Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act, which would allow for the deployment of active-duty units in law enforcement roles if requested by a governor or state legislature.

The Insurrection Act was invoked in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush sent active-duty troops to California at the request of Gov. Pete Wilson, following unrest in the aftermath of the arrest and beating of Rodney King by police.

Cotton's calls for more aggressive action by active-duty troops contrasted with early signs that the crisis might be abating.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz ordered the partial deactivation of Minnesota National Guard troops called up to assist local law enforcement following relatively peaceful protests in Minneapolis and St. Paul on Saturday and Sunday, and shortened the hours of curfew in effect for Monday and Tuesday nights.

However, other governors and mayors extended curfews in an effort to quell violence.

"We are keeping the curfew [from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.] in place tonight to protect everyone's safety and help our first responders keep the peace," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser extended curfews for Monday and Tuesday nights from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.

In his comments on Fox News, Cotton tempered his call for aggressive action by the president to quell the violence with a plea for justice in the case of George Floyd.

"What the president can do is say that justice will be done in accordance with law for George Floyd and we will always respect the right of peaceful protests," but the line has to be drawn against looting and rioting, he said.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union called Cotton's remarks "dangerous" and said they were likely to inflame an already tense situation nationwide.

"This approach and mindset in response to legitimate grievances would be irresponsible and dangerous," Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project, told regarding Cotton's remarks. "We are not in an actual war."

In a May 29 news conference, Walz said he had spoken twice to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley about the possibility of assistance from active-duty troops, but said again Monday that he had made no formal request.

The Defense Department on May 30 confirmed that Esper and Milley had spoken with the Minnesota governor and expressed their willingness to provide support, but said Walz did not ask for active-duty troops.

However, the DoD said in a statement that U.S. Northern Command had increased the alert status for several active duty-units, including military police, should they be required.

"These are units that normally maintain a 48-hour recall to support state civil authorities for several contingencies [like natural disasters] and are now on four-hour status," the DoD statement said.

National Guard support as backup for local enforcement increased significantly over the weekend, the National Guard Bureau said Monday.

As of May 30, a total of about 5,000 members of the National Guard had been called up in 15 states and the District of Columbia in response to the civil unrest, the Bureau said in a statement. On Monday, the number activated increased to 17,000 in 23 states and the District of Columbia, it added.

"The situation remains fluid and, as governors access their needs, the numbers may change rapidly," the Bureau said.

"We are here to protect life and property, and preserve peace, order, and public safety," Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

The 17,000 National Guard members activated to assist in containing civil unrest, combined with those already activated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, put the total number of National Guard troops activated at historic levels, the Bureau said.

A total of about 66,700 National Guard members had been activated as of Monday morning, according to the Bureau.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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