False claim: U.S. coronavirus response “slowly introducing” martial law

Social media users are circulating posts and images that make the claim that the response to the coronavirus pandemic is “slowly introducing” martial law in the U.S., ( here , here ).

Some comments on these posts include “No FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) death camps for me” and “Some can see what’s going on”, hinting at a possible conspiracy.

The claim comes as COVID-19 infections stand at more than 1.88 million worldwide, with 584,293 cases and 23,568 deaths in the United States alone, as of April 13 ( here ).

The claim is inaccurate. Despite military deployments and shutdowns across the country, the current state of affairs does not reflect the enactment of martial law.


Martial law generally refers to “military control over all of a country's activities, usually during wartime or due to an emergency or widespread disaster” ( here ).

Martial law is often associated with the suspension of civil liberties. In the U.S., martial law has only been instituted on rare occasions, perhaps most notably during the Civil War and regionally during World War Two, when martial law was used to justify the imposition of curfews and the internment of Japanese-Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor ( here ).

Martial law can only by ordered by the President as commander-in-chief or by Congress.


Since mid-March, the U.S. military has deployed field hospitals in a few states to provide support during the pandemic ( here ).

On March 18, President Donald Trump, invoking the Defense Production Act to accelerate production of vital medical equipment, said he saw himself as a 'wartime president' in the fight against the coronavirus ( here ).

Two weeks later, Trump said that the government would be deploying thousands of military personnel to certain states to help them deal with the epidemic ( here ).

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, governors in at least 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico,Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have already deployed the Army or the National Guard to respond to the public health crisis ( here ).

Such measures are not unique to the United States: many other countries have brought in the military to support government efforts to combat the crisis ( here ).


As of April 14, there has been no declaration of martial law at the state or national level.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said in mid-March, according to the Sacramento Bee: “If you want to establish a framework of martial law, which is ultimate authority and enforcement, we have the capacity to do that, but we are not feeling at this moment that is a necessity.” ( here ).

In New York, currently the world’s epicenter of the new coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo has also repeatedly denied any plans to declare martial law ( here ).


Restrictions on non-essential travel as well as the closure of schools and businesses are not unheard-of measures during public health emergencies ( here ), while the domestic deployment of federal troops, as authorized by statute, is also not unprecedented.

The Atlantic recently reported on what the introduction of martial law in response to the new coronavirus outbreak might look like in the U.S. ( here ).

The coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. has indeed forced cancellations, closures and postponements throughout sports, entertainment, and education (  here ). These measures are medically recommended and fall in line with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. ( here ). They mirror restrictions introduced by other nations.

Reuters has previously debunked claims that the U.S. government was using the outbreak to control all aspects of citizens’ lives ( here ).


False: There is no evidence the U.S. is gradually introducing martial law to combat the spread of the coronavirus

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact checking work here .