Don’t Talk About “Posse comitatus” and Burns, Oregon

Paramilitary goon in Burns, Oregon.

A real quick history lesson here about “Posse comitatus”

The term derives from the Latin posse comitātūs, “power of the community,” and the original meaning refers to a group of citizens assembled by the authorities to deal with an emergency (such as suppressing a riot or pursuing felons), the term posse is also used for any force or band, especially with hostile intent, often also figuratively or humorously.

These days Posse comitatus is the common-law or statute law authority of a county sheriff, or other law officer, to conscript any able-bodied man to assist him in keeping the peace or to pursue and arrest a felon, similar to the concept of the “hue and cry.” Originally found in English common law, it is generally obsolete; however, it survives in the United States, where it is the law enforcement equivalent of summoning the militia for military purposes.

posse-comitatusThe purpose of the Posse comitatus act of 1878 – in concert with the Insurrection Act of 1807 – is to limit the powers of the federal government in using federal military personnel to enforce domestic policies within the United States. It was passed as an amendment to an army appropriation bill following the end of Reconstruction, and was subsequently updated in 1956 and 1981.

The point was to make it so that the federal government could not use its “posse” of soldiers to come into a community and steal land or kill people. The sheriff was supposed to band together a group from the COMMUNITY to take care of this issue in Burns, not call in all the king’s horses, so to speak.

Posse Comitatus Act of 1878
Posse Comitatus Act of 1878

Posse Comitatus, more significantly known as The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, limits the use of federal troops inside the United States (or CONUS in DoD speak). After the civil war, Union troops flooded the south as a police force, used to ensure former slaves were freed and had their rights as Americans. During the 1876 elections, the US soldiers were ordered to protect the rights of the black freedmen. While using the troops as a policing force would seem a great idea, it limited the accountability of the troops’ actions. The southern states claimed that instead of enforcing laws during the elections, federal troops refused admittance for southern voters or tried scaring them to vote for Republican in the most controversial election in our history. The south, to quell the debate over the presidency, allowed Hayes to win election without quarrel, but only with the passing of The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

While there is no documentation of these grievances that I could find, it strikes me as odd that the south would give up the presidency, such a powerful position, in trade to have the troops removed unless some sort of grievance existed.

So what exactly does Posse Comitatus establish?

The Act limits the use of the Army, and the Commander-in-Chief, from using the Army local and state law enforcement. It does not limit the National Guard from operating in home states or connecting states. (i.e. Ohio National Guard can be activated for Indiana enforcement if the Governor requests) This is also important in the case of Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus in 1957, when he refused to call the Arkansas National Guard with the 101st Airborne to prevent violence in the “Little Rock Nine” case. (


Without this limitation, it would be possible for the president to order the United States Army to do roadblocks inside the US, raid houses like SWAT, patrol the streets in HMMWVs (Humvee) and tanks, and even use military helicopters in assault or pursuit of perpetrators. Hey, wait a second… haven’t they been doing that in eastern Oregon? I am pretty sure that it isn’t the US Army that has been doing this same thing in Burns, Oregon lately, but no one knows because the military-looking “law enforcement” wear no identifying insignia and refuse to identify themselves.

The funny thing is that Posse Comitatus Act applies to branches of the military, but not the FBI and not private mercenaries. The question then is… who are these thugs?

What would you do if these thugs that refuse to wear any identifying insignia and refuse to identify themselves or the agency that they work for were in YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD restricting access to your property?


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