Trump Activated the National Guard to Fight Coronavirus. Here’s What That Means.

Specialist Colby Chiverton, of the California National Guard stacks boxes of food supplies to be sent out from the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, March 21, 2020. AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

By Emiene Wright

March 23, 2020

The White House stressed that the deployments do not mean the implementation of martial law.

With more than 35,000 U.S. citizens confirmed infected by the novel coronavirus, President Trump announced Sunday that the National Guard would be federally activated in New York, Washington, and California, the three states hardest hit. 

States of emergency have been declared in all 50 U.S. states, plus territories and the District of Columbia, and as of Sunday at least 7,300 Air and Army National Guard troops had been deployed across the nation. Missions for the troops, the National Guard said, could include sample collection, response planning, support for testing facilities, and disinfecting public spaces. 

Trump also approved a disaster declaration for California Sunday night. New York and Washington state already had been declared. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide medical stations with beds to the states, plus a naval hospital ship will be activated on the East Coast and the West coast. 

On Monday, the U.S. Navy announced it was sending a hospital ship based in San Diego to Los Angeles.

The White House stressed that the deployments do not mean the implementation of martial law, wherein the military assumes control of civilian functions and certain rights can be suspended, such as freedom of association, freedom of movement, right to a trial before imprisonment and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. 

“There is no truth to this rumor that people are conspiring, that governors are planning, that anyone is conspiring to use the National Guard, mobilized or not, Title 32 or state, to do military action to enforce shelter in place or quarantines,” Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters Sunday night.

Despite federal activation, Trump promised that the governors of the states would remain in command while the federal government picks up the costs.

“We’ll be following them and we hope they can do the job and I think they will. I spoke with all three of the governors today, just a little while ago and they’re very happy with what we’re going to be doing,” Trump said Sunday. Still, he relied on martial language to frame his actions.

“I’m a wartime president,” Trump said. “This is a war — a different kind of war than we’ve ever had.”

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