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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 29, 2021

US military arresting Congress? That’s Pants on Fire ridiculous

If Your Time is short

  • The claim is a headline on an article that cites no evidence that members of the military arrested any members of Congress this week.

"BREAKING: US Military at the White House Arresting Congress," was the headline posted Jan. 28 on a website called Newsview.

The article, widely shared on Facebook, alleged that early on the morning of Jan. 25, special operations units had "served indictments on, or were about to arrest, 67% of Congress." 

No source for the information was cited. 

The article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Spokespersons for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the claim is false.

It goes without saying that an arrest of even one member of the House or Senate by the military would have made major news.

Leaving aside why the military would go to the White House to "arrest Congress," the claim lacks any truth.

Rare, but military can be given arresting authority

Generally, members of the military have no legal authority to arrest private citizens, though they can be given the power to arrest through laws such as the Insurrection Act, said University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, whose specialties include constitutional law, national security law and military justice.  

Lindsay Cohn, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, said that even when members of the military are deployed to assist in the enforcement of law and order, it’s unusual for them to be given arrest authority. If members of Congress violated federal law, they would most likely be arrested by the FBI or a federal marshal, she added.

Vladeck and Cohn said some National Guard members who provided security for Biden’s inauguration in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol were given arrest authority.

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Vladeck pointed out that if two-thirds of Congress had been arrested, word somehow would have leaked out.

"Simply put, this is all just nuts," he said.

The Department of Defense did not respond to our emails seeking comment.

Misleading allusions to Insurrection Act, martial law

The article makes other unsubstantiated claims, including that the United States "has been functioning under martial law" since Jan. 9 as a result of an order by then-President Donald Trump.

Many posts on social media pushing unproven claims about Trump declaring martial law or invoking the Insurrection Act contain information that’s misleading or inaccurate. 

The federal Insurrection Act empowers the president to deploy the military and federalize National Guard troops to suppress certain situations including civil disorder, insurrection or rebellion. Martial law is a concept that doesn't have a legal definition in the U.S. At its most extreme, it reflects the suspension of civil authority and military control of civilian functions such as the courts.​

Neither the act nor martial law has been employed.

Our ruling

The headline of an article widely shared on Facebook claimed: "U.S. military at the White House arresting Congress."

There is no evidence to support what is a false and ridiculous claim.

We rate it Pants on Fire!

Our Sources, "BREAKING: US Military at the White House Arresting Congress," Jan. 28, 2021

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking claims about the Insurrection Act, martial law after Capitol riot," Jan. 11, 2021

Email, Drew Hammill, spokesman for House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Jan. 29, 2021

Email, University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, Jan. 28, 2021

Email, Sen. Chuck Schumer spokesman Alex Nguyen, Jan. 29, 2021

Email, Lindsay Cohn, professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, Jan. 28, 2021

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US military arresting Congress? That’s Pants on Fire ridiculous

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