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5 times U.S. presidents deployed the military domestically

By Emilie Plesset
Washington Week Fellow

President Donald Trump called for military assistance in guarding the U.S.-Mexico border this week, arguing for the move’s necessity while his border wall is incomplete. Though sending the National Guard to the southern border comes with its own set of legal and financial challenges, it wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. president has deployed the military domestically.

Here are a few notable domestic uses of the military in American history:

Breaking up Bonus Army protests in 1932

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In the midst of the Great Depression, thousands of World War I veterans gathered in Washington, D.C. to demand the government pay out the service certificate bonuses the veterans received after the war. The veterans, known as the Bonus Army, set up an Army-style camp in vacant lots and refused to leave even after a bill to pay out their bonuses was squashed in the Senate. A D.C. police effort to evict the veterans turned violent and two protestors were shot. After the failed police effort, President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army, led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, to clear out the camps. The Army shot tear gas and torched the camp as veterans fled. 

Integration in Little Rock, AR in 1957

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President Dwight Eisenhower used an executive order to send troops to Little Rock, AR in 1957 to enforce the integration of Central High School. Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock after Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to uphold racial segregation and block nine African American students from entering the school.

Civil right march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965

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After a civil rights activist was fatally shot by Alabama state troopers, civil rights leaders organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Hosea Williams and John Lewis, now a Georgia congressman. After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the marchers met a wall of state troopers, who attacked the marchers will clubs and tear gas in an incident known as Bloody Sunday. A second march took place without violence, but Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. turned the demonstrators around when troopers again blocked the bridge. After Alabama Governor George Wallace refused to issue the demonstrators protection for a third march, President Lyndon Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers as they walked towards the state capitol.

1970 U.S. postal strike

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After declaring a national emergency, President Richard Nixon deployed the National Guard to New York City to distribute mail during the eight-day U.S. postal strike in 1970. At least 150,000 postal carriers joined the nationwide strike to demand higher wages and better working conditions. The effects of the strike greatly impacted the country as important government, finance, and industry documents, as well as Vietnam War draft notices, failed to be delivered.

U.S.-Mexico border in 2010

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President Barack Obama deployed 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border in 2010 to help combat drug trafficking and the potential for spillover violence. Obama’s deployment succeeded President George W. Bush’s Operation Jump Start, which deployed 6,000 guards to surveil the southern border in 2006.