Did Obama Sign an Executive Order Letting Him Institute Martial Law?

The signing of an executive order by then-U.S. President Barack Obama in March 2012 provided yet another example of conspiracy-mongers accusing him of wanting to install himself as a dictator.

Obama signed the National Defense Resources Preparedness Executive Order (a.k.a. EO 13603) that month — an updated version of an order signed by President Bill Clinton in June 1994.

Predictably, right-wing users posted memes claiming that the order allowed Obama to take control over “all forms of energy” and “all forms of civil transportation,” among other facets of U.S. infrastructure:

The conspiracy also saw itself laundered into legitimate news oulets — Forbes, for example, published an op-ed by a member of the libertarian Cato Society claiming that the order reflected Obama wanting to make his presidency into “a potentially totalitarian regime obsessed with control over everything.”

In typical fashion, though, the virtual garment-renders ignored that the order explicitly assigns authority over each issue to the federal departments already overseeing it:

(1) the Secretary of Agriculture with respect to food resources, food resource facilities, livestock resources, veterinary resources, plant health resources, and the domestic distribution of farm equipment and commercial fertilizer;

(2) the Secretary of Energy with respect to all forms of energy;

(3) the Secretary of Health and Human Services with respect to health resources;

(4) the Secretary of Transportation with respect to all forms of civil transportation;

(5) the Secretary of Defense with respect to water resources; and

(6) the Secretary of Commerce with respect to all other materials, services, and facilities, including construction materials.

Regardless, this kind of disinformation was and remains a go-to tactic for news outlets and internet users intent on undermining not only the Obama administration, but Democratic policy — and ultimately democratic intent — as a whole; Obama, for example, was falsely accused of shutting down the government to “force” the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The tactic has only expanded since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Facebook being used to organize inauthentic campaigns against local governments, using causes like COVID-19 prevention, “human trafficking,” and public education as pretext.

The furor surrounding EO13603 has continued to linger online, to the point that supporters of Obama’s successor, Republican Donald Trump, claimed that he could invoke the document so that he could remain president even after losing to Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden:

(It did not.)

Update 2/7/2022, 3:35 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag