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Context of 'September 25, 1984: Standby Legislation Would Suspend Constitution, Allow FEMA Takeover'

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John Brinkeroff, deputy for national preparedness programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), outlines plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. In a memorandum later obtained by the Miami Herald, Brinkeroff describes how FEMA and the military would take over the country in the event of a crisis. According to the Herald, the plans include “suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments, and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.” Although the term “national crisis” is not defined, the Herald will later report that it is understood to mean anything from nuclear war to “violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a military invasion abroad.” A source will tell the Herald the contingency plan is authorized by an “executive order or legislative package that [President] Reagan would sign and hold within the NSC [National Security Council] until a severe crisis arose.” This may refer to emergency legislation drafted by the Reagan administration to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984) and proposed updates to Executive Order 11490 (see August 2, 1984). The Brinkeroff memo resembles a paper written in 1970 by the current head of FEMA, Louis O. Giuffrida, in which he advocated the roundup and transfer of at least 21 million “American Negroes” to “assembly centers or relocation camps” in the event of an emergency (see 1970). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987]

Entity Tags: Louis Giuffrida, Federal Emergency Management Agency, John Brinkeroff, National Security Council, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In a letter to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Attorney General William French Smith strongly objects to martial law plans developed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Smith learns the full extent of the plans upon reviewing a proposal by the Reagan administration to change Executive Order 11490 (see October 28, 1969). The Reagan administration is holding the drafted changes, along with standby legislation to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984), in preparation for any emergency that may require a military-style takeover of the nation’s resources and population. The plans cover a range of crisis situations, including a nuclear attack, natural disasters, and civil unrest. Smith writes: “I believe that the draft executive order raises serious substantive and public policy issues that should be further addressed before this proposal is submitted to the president. In short I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the revised executive order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness.” Smith continues: “This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an ‘emergency czar’ role for FEMA. Specific policy concerns regarding recent FEMA initiatives include the abandonment of the principle of ‘several’ agency responsibility and the expansion of the definition of severe emergencies to encompass ‘routine’ domestic law enforcement emergencies. Legal objections relate to the absence of presidential or Congressional authorization for unilateral FEMA directives which seek to establish new federal government management structures or otherwise task cabinet departments and other federal agencies.” Despite the objections of the Justice Department, FEMA and the Reagan administration will not abandon the emergency doctrine. Before leaving office, Reagan will dramatically expand the government’s emergency powers and officially override Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). [Miami Herald, 7/5/1987; Reynolds, 1990]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Reagan administration, Robert C. McFarlane, William French Smith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Reagan administration prepares a reserve emergency bill to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act. The legislation, which would be presented to Congress in the event of a crisis, would suspend the Constitution and give the president and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) unprecedented powers to combat a disaster. Nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson comments, “Since FEMA’s draft legislation is a standby proposal, it will not be offered to Congress ahead of time—when it could be thoroughly debated—but only in the event of a national emergency, when Congress would supposedly be panicked into voting for a dictatorship.” The bill covers a range of emergencies, including nuclear war, natural disasters, financial crises, and civil disturbances. It would grant the government the authority to ration goods and resources, take control of the nation’s manufacturing base, and require all citizens to work in “activities essential to the national health, safety, or interest.” The bill would outlaw striking by workers, and those refusing to work or caught lying about the availability of manpower would be heavily fined or thrown in jail. It would grant the government the authority to seize real estate and personal property considered “necessary for the national defense purpose.” Datamation magazine says the plans would lead to a military takeover of the computer industry. The bill would give the government “unlimited powers to seize computers and plants of high-technology industries and would establish an Office of Censorship to control telecommunications leaving the United States, making it a crime for companies to use secret codes.” [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 9/25/1984; Evening Independent, 10/17/1984]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Reagan administration, Office of Censorship

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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