The idea that the U.S. military would oversee a new nationwide presidential election — ordered under martial law by President Donald Trump — is “insane in a year that we didn’t think could get anymore insane,” a defense official tells Military Times.
Yet retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn promoted that exact idea Tuesday evening when he tweeted a press release from an Ohio-based conservative political organization.
Calling former Vice President Joe Biden’s Nov. 3 victory over Trump “fraudulent,” the Ohio-based “We The People Convention” took out a full-page ad in the Washington Times on Tuesday urging Trump to “immediately declare a limited form of Martial Law, and temporarily suspend the Constitution and civilian control of these federal elections, for the sole purpose of having the military oversee a re-vote.”
The organization called for the revote to include only registered voters with photo IDs, to be limited to only paper ballots, to be hand counted and with members of both Democrat and Republican parties observing.
“Unfortunately, we are at the point where we can only trust our military to do this because our corrupt political class and courts have proven their inability to act fairly and within the law,” the group argued.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the call for martial law. But during a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany referred to Flynn as “a valiant hero who served his country both on the battlefield and then in government” but did not reference his calls for military action in response to the election results.
“The president has said that he believes all legal votes to be counted and all illegal votes should not be counted, and the campaign is pursuing that litigation,” she said.
Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about his interaction with Russian contacts during Trump’s 2016 transition to the White House, was recently pardoned by Trump.
The former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, and later briefly serving as Trump’s national security adviser, Flynn tweeted out We The People Convention’s press release Tuesday to his more than 1 million followers, with the message “Freedom never kneels except for God.”
The concept of the military being involved in such a revote, and that Flynn and other once-respected military officials, including retired Air Force three-star Thomas McInerney, would advocate martial law, raises alarms for constitutional scholars and military-civilian experts.
The idea is “preposterous,” said Bill Banks, a Syracuse University professor with expertise in constitutional and national security law.
“Apart from the fact that state and now federal investigators have found no evidence of election fraud that would change the election outcome, martial law has no place in the United States absent a complete breakdown of civil governing mechanisms,” he told Military Times.
Martial law, he added, “simply has the military in charge, subject only to military orders, not civilian law.”
It has not been invoked in the U.S. “since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and there is no likelihood or justification for martial law now,” said Banks. “Our civilian institutions have, in fact, revealed themselves to be resilient in responding to unprecedented partisan attacks on election administration and vote counting in state and local systems across the United States.”
That retired military leaders would push such measures would violate their oath to the Constitution, said Risa Brooks, civil-military relations expert and Allis Chalmers Associate Professor of political science at Marquette University.
“As general officers, these men spent long careers committed to defending the Constitution,” she told Military Times. “Calling for martial law and a suspension of the Constitution is a direct violation of their oath to uphold it.”
Flynn and McInerney “discredit their uniform,” said Jim Golby, a former Trump White House official and retired Army strategist who is now a senior fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Clements Center for National Security.
The retired general officers “undermine our democracy, and create a real security threat,” Golby added.
Statements like these by such high-ranking former military officers have a dangerous effect on civilian-military relations, said Golby, who worked in the White House when Flynn was serving as NSA.
“Even though the overwhelming majority of retired general officers don’t spread nonsense like this, those who do spread these lies or support these undemocratic conspiracies draw attention to them and give some of the military’s credibility to theses dangerous causes,” he said.
“By speaking out on fringe media or retweeting this information, they are likely to influence some Americans and ensure that harmful messages like these get oxygen.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.