how to survive martial law

How to Prepare for Surviving Martial Law

It is fair to say that during the last 4 years, a lot of people expected former President Trump to declare martial law. If people weren’t thinking about “cleaning out the deep state”, it was large scale riots in the cities, and then disagreements about the outcome of the 2020 election.

Perhaps as you read through this article, it will become more clear why we remain a free, civilian controlled society today as opposed to one under military control. You may still be interested in learning more about how to survive martial law given the current unrest.

What is Martial Law?

Martial law isn’t about the armed forces controlling or taking place of the elected government. It is about using the armed forces to control the masses.

Under normal circumstances, the government uses law enforcement and other civilian agencies to ensure laws passed are followed by all people whether they agree with those laws or not. When there is a severe threat to the public or dangerous levels of civil unrest, the government can use the armed forces to control society and restore order.

Government, Citizens, and Military

Most governments make a distinction between those trained and actively defending the country (the military) and citizens who live there and go about their lives (civilians).

In all cases, there is no such thing as a “right” of one or more civilians to take on the role of the federally recognized and funded armed forces. While we do have laws related to the formation of citizen militias, and National Guard, those are under the control and at the discretion of the governors of each state.

Military law and the armed forces are not meant to take the place of civilian law. The latter is used for managing social problems such as immigration, crime, and lawsuits (ie. civil law). Various law enforcement officers are tasked with enforcing civil law, and the military is not allowed to take part. This is well defined by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 (which does not cover the National Guard or Coast Guard).

The military is not allowed to make an initial determination about when to step in. Rather, it is the civilian authority – our lawmakers – that must make the initial request. Typically, state-level officials must also agree to have a military presence in their state and allow for the use of those forces in a law enforcement capacity. From there, the armed forces may still decline to take action if they determine it is not within their scope to legally intervene.

While this may look like a long and complex process, it is actually very simple. The right set of situations can result in a declaration of martial law and armed forces movement in a matter of minutes.

You might also find interesting our article about what would happen in an emp attack.

Who Can Declare Martial Law in the United States?

The United States Conggress in Washington DC.

Many people mistakenly believe that one person, the president can declare martial law at will. In reality, the president cannot use martial law unless congress gives consent. While declarations of emergency can involve the use of the armed forces, it is not the same as declaring martial law.

Beyond that, states can impose martial law based on their own guidelines. Typically, individual states have declared martial law more often than federal lawmakers.

What Rights are Lost During Martial Law?

When martial law is declared, society shifts away from civilian law in favor of a more militant one. As such, things that weren’t illegal before might be under martial law. The extent of the loss of your constitutional rights may depend on the situation and what is needed to restore order.

For example, the armed forces may impose curfews, search your home without a warrant, take things from your home, and suspend habeas corpus.

Recent Declarations of Martial Law Around the World and the Results

Other than national and local emergencies, fully declaring martial law is rare. Here are two of the most recent situations from around the world to think about:

  • Nagorno Karabakh – From September 2020 to November 2020, hostilities broke out between several regions in and around Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared martial law during the conflict. The region remains very unsettled. Pashinyan is seen as having lost land in the conflict, and it is possible he is going to be voted out.
  • Myanmar – Martial law was declared in Myanmar in February 2021. Prior to that, the military arrested the elected government officials saying that there was evidence of voter fraud in the Myanmar 2020 election. This has caused massive protests, which in turn, has led to the imposition of martial law. As I write this, it’s simply too soon to say how this will all turn out, including whether or not there is going to be a fair trial to determine what actually happened in the election.

What Does History Teach us in General About Martial Law and Its Use?

Martial law is a “last-ditch” survival effort to stop society from devolving into complete and irrevocable chaos. Nevertheless, a government that turns the armed forces against its own people is going to fail in the long run. Several countries that have been under military rule are fertile ground for terrorist groups and anyone else that will give the common people guns and ammo to fight against any perceived oppression.

We also recommend reading our article about household items for survival.

What Kind of Scenarios can Cause a Declaration of Martial Law?

A house flodded by an hurricane.

Given modern technology and methods for controlling people and various degrees of civil unrest, there are very few reasons to impose martial law. That all being said, here are the most common ones:

Nuclear Crisis – In this situation, the military might need to make checkpoints and safe places to contain radioactive materials, assist with evacuations, and manage other elements of the crisis.

Insurrection – As we saw in several cities across the United States, we now have the methods and the technology (LRADS, debilitating smoke devices, etc) to manage riots without calling in the armed forces. Even if it takes some time, our law enforcement officials have a way to restore order.

  • Riots are not the same thing as an insurrection. Even if rioters have political goals, it’s not the same as attempting to remove elected officials through violent means.

Natural disaster – in these situations the military might assist with evacuations and other things to keep the people safe.

How possible is it to see a declaration of martial law in the United States?

At the current time, it’s impossible to say. There are certainly some situations that can come up, but they have been in play for a long time. By this I mean the idealogical conflict going on between socialism, communism, and capitalism.

There are also many other undercurrents that are feeding into this framework that could cause a widespread insurrection at any time. Which side will start it, quite frankly, is anybody’s guess.

The one thing I don’t believe will happen is that President Biden and the current Congress will use any excuse necessary to declare martial law.

As a case in point, if they want to make Covid into a martial law situation it would be fairly easy. Instead, they are doing everything they know how to get the death rate, infection rate, and economic damage down as quickly as possible.

The current drop in numbers would not support martial law. Quite frankly, Trump would have had a better excuse for martial law during the early days of the pandemic when both Democrats and Republicans were looking for strong centralized leadership.

I also don’t believe the Biden administration will attempt to use martial law as a means to circumvent the legislative process. We are certainly in for some fierce debates and protests. But in the end, I think every voice will be heard, and I hope we can all come to one truth and a solid agreement.

That all being said, you never know what will happen. Years ago, there were also many times during Arab Spring, especially in Syria when it seemed like the government and the people would find suitable common ground. I do not, by any means, downplay the possibility of something erupting out of the blue that might result in the declaration of martial law in the United States.

If martial law is Declared: How Will Life Change?

A lot depends on your current lifestyle and the nature of the situation itself. If you keep odd hours or travel a lot, then curfews, checkpoints, and other travel limitations can make survival very hard.

For the most part, people can and will survive and go about their lives. However, this can also change if the situation itself becomes more dire. For example, if a small scale insurrection escalates to larger and larger swatches of the country, you might see the military systemically seizing weapons, survival stockpiles, massive arrests, increased surveillance, and other curbs on personal freedom.

How to Survive Martial Law

a stocked up food pantry for emergencies.

The best way to survive martial law is to keep a low profile. Here are some things to think about:

Survival Food Water and Basics – make sure you have plenty of medication, food, and supplies to survive martial law for weeks to months. Be able to harvest water from rain and the ground.

  • Always keep shelf-stable food onhand. Be sure you can grow your own survival food. If you can find a way to grow food indoors it will be to your advantage.
  • Get a water filtration system that will filter out any drugs or other chemicals that may be fed in through the municipal water system by terrorist groups or others seeking to cause harm to the public.
  • As a side note related to water safety, it is best to trust no one. A recent case in Florida is a perfect example of a non-martial law situation where hackers tried to increase the amount of lye released into the water.
  • Even without current social and political concerns, you can and should be making sure that you have the materials and resources onhand to filter the water of chemical impurities. Get bone char and some of the more advanced polymers to compliment activated carbon.

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Power for Cooking, Heating, and Appliances

  • Get Ready to Generate Your Own Electricity. Keep in mind it is possible that power grids will go down or be shut down. A power system that would need kerosene or other non-renewable fuels will be a waste of time. Opt for solar panel and battery systems that generate 120 volts of power. These systems run under $1500.00 and are fairly easy to set up and maintain.

Travel and Work

  • Do what you can to limit travel. This is a good time to find a program designed to provide income at home. This includes looking for ways to earn advertising fees, try an affiliate advertising program, provide a means for sites to deploy apps for mobile devices, or other programs designed to meet your financial need as long as you have a computer.

The more you keep a low profile, the better you have to survive martial law. Even though sites to earn advertising money may also be shut down, at least you can use them now to build up some savings and supplies. You can even get family members involved if they have an aptitude for advertising and linking, or other web sale skills.

Managing Your Money

  • It is also very important to diversify your assets. Very few, if any talk about what the banks will do if the military takes control. It is hard to say if debit cards, bank accounts, and other assets will be frozen.
  • This is a good time to look into cryptocurrencies and also brush up on your bartering skills. Anything that will provide a means to shield assets from seizure might also be very important. Talk to an estate or asset planner to see if anyone has some good advice about how to keep a low profile financially under these circumstances.

Bugging In or Bugging Out During Martial Law: Pros and Cons

As with anything else, the decision to bug in or out will depend on the situation itself. If you prefer to bug out, do so before martial law is declared. The sooner you get to your safe location, the better.

There isn’t a particular advantage to bugging out unless the area you are going to is safe and will be free of excess civil unrest. You may be at a disadvantage if you are in a situation where you are going to become a target for the military.

Bugging in may be to your advantage because you can maintain a low profile among the rest of the general population. On the other hand, if resources become scarce, both the armed forces and those around you may try to take from you.

What About Prepper Groups During Martial Law?

In my estimation, early on, prepper groups that are seen as a potential source of unrest will be targeted for seizure before people living quietly in conventional homes and apartment buildings. Later on, however, if the situation gets worse, you may need to get to a prepper community just to meet the basic needs of life such as food and water as well as survive martial law.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Martial Law

When it comes right down to it, the best way to survive martial law is to avoid it in the first place. Here are some very simple things you can and should do as often as possible.

Honesty, Truth, and Accuracy

  • Never get sucked in by woo woo. If someone makes a prediction, and it doesn’t happen, then don’t continue to give them an audience. Truth, credibility, and accuracy are a matter of survival in these times.
  • If someone says “well I was just testing you by giving you wrong information”, or “this is deliberate operational misinformation to protect the real facts” – don’t just walk away from those people – RUN.
  • These people are already implying you are beneath them and act like you aren’t “worthy” of the truth. When you aren’t equal, when “trust no one” is applied to you, then you become their pawn, and most certainly, to them, you are expendable. You deserve much better than that. Reliability matters.

US Government is Of, By and For the People. Speak Up and Take Part

  • Take an active role in communicating with elected leaders. Ask nicely. Never use threats or violence. Let them know when they do things that are good, and let them know when they are off base.
  • Your feedback matters, even if it is contrary to the party they belong to. If you never speak up, they don’t know how many votes they are missing out on, and what they should be focusing on.
  • Investigate politicians. Push for laws mandating bi-yearly psychiatric and medical checkups, plus drug and alcohol use screening prior to each session dedicated to votes and discussions on laws. It is also essential to make sure test results and findings are made publicly available.
  • Make sure you know the financial, relationship, medical, and psychiatric backgrounds of politicians. If they refuse to make this information available, don’t nominate them and don’t vote for them. If they do get in, investigate until you find something worth forming a petition of recall over.
  • Reward politicians that comply with your requests with votes, donations, and active campaigning efforts. Don’t be afraid to get involved and volunteer your time and effort.
  • Maintain a position of non-violence. If there is one thing the government can’t handle, it is a peaceful protest. Make sure your permits are in order, and also have a good lawyer on hand in case you need to sue for any breach of your rights.

Use the Media and Public Interest to Your Advantage

  • Also, make sure you know how to use the media to your advantage. Many activist groups today know how to generate “Mind bombs” and use the media to gain sympathy. Learn from them and use what works.

Vote With Your Wallet

  • Peacefully protest with your wallet and labor choices. When you refuse to work for or buy from businesses and industries that support certain politicians, it sends a message that can never be silenced by military-style groups or legislation.


There is no question that our nation is facing some very difficult times. Our country has also survived things that were much worse, and come through them without devolving into large scale chaos. This is still a good time to be prepared, and learn how to survive martial law just in case it happens.

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