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Truck Stop

Claim:   A truck's cargo of road signs revealed a government plot to impose martial law.

FALSE

Examples:

[Collected via e-mail, January 2013]

On January 15, 2013 a law enforcement officer in the north end of the Greater Houston area stopped a semi tractor-trailer driver, who was heading in a southerly direction, during a routine check for drugs. During a search of the cargo of the trailer, he discovered packages of road signs that read the following: "Martial Law in effect". The driver had a bill of lading in his possession stating that this cargo's destination was to the Department of Homeland Security.
 

[Collected via e-mail, 1999]

I met a man last night that used to go to my church. Brandon moved last year before I started attending. But several people, including the pastor, say that Brandon is totally honest and does not "go off half-cocked."

Brandon told me that his wife received a call from her cousin last week. The cousin lives in Ohio and her husband is a truck driver for Wal-Mart. It seems he was driving a load early last week and stopped at a border weigh station. The inspector wanted to know what was in the load, and the driver indicated he did not know. He merely picked up the trailer and was transporting it to another state.

The inspector opened the trailer and saw hundreds of uniform boxes. He asked what was in the boxes and the driver again stated that he didn't know. So the inspector opened a box.

In the box were about a hundred large (about 2'x3') plastic signs that stated: "This City Under Martial Law" in bright colors. It said something about the federal gov't and had what looked like a legal reference (the driver claims to know nothing about legal issues, but he thought it was a reference to a law or an Executive Order or something).

There were several hundred boxes of these signs. The driver doesn't know what Wal-Mart has to do with the signs. But he DID state that Wal-Mart sometimes hires out space on their trucks if space is available. I might suggest that maybe the federal gov't was using Wal-Mart trucks to keep a low profile.

Anyway, the info came to me by way of a long route. But the sources are "innocent bystanders" with no history of right-wing reactionary politics. The driver was married to a woman who was related to Brandon's wife. Brandon swears the info is accurate and that he spoke with the driver himself to confirm what was passed between the respective wives. The driver claims there were hundreds of boxes, each one with at least a hundred large signs declaring martial law.

I thought this was worth passing along. Especially since the federal gov't is telling us (Wednesday issue of USA Today and today's press releases) that we have nothing to fear.
 

[Collected via e-mail, 1999]

Becky, my wife, went to her long-time doctor today. The conversation shifted to current events. This very credible doctor told her his brother-in-law followed a truck part of the way home from Beaumont. The truck was loaded with signs covered, individually, with cardboard.

The truck stopped at a stop sign, and the bro-in-law, could read a label on the boxes which said "Martial law signs".This was on Saturday March 27 1999.

Again, this was from a medical doctor who is very credible. This is not just hearsay or rumor from folks we dont know. You might want to pass this on, and keep your powder dry!
 

[Collected via e-mail, 1999]

This information is from an extremely reliable source from the North Idaho area:

This morning May 14, 1999 at the Coeur d'Alene Idaho truck scales, a truck came through that was accidentally overloaded. They made them bring in a another truck to unload some of it's load to reduce the weight of the truck. What was being off-loaded is what sends up a RED-FLAG.

They were unloading road signs. Some of the road signs read the following "MARTIAL LAW - ROAD CLOSED". All the signs had something to do with Martial Law.
 

Origins:   One of the most commonly and continuously circulated types of conspiracy theories has to do with claims that the President of the United States or some other federal agency is about to declare martial law. Rumors about the imposition of martial law circulate particularly widely after the occurrence of large-scale catastrophes (such as the 9/11 attacks) or in anticipation of troubling times to come (such as the election of a new president, the arrival of the year 2000, or the passage of more stringent gun control laws). Such rumors generally feature a plot in which the government's plan to impose martial law has been inadvertently revealed through some minor accidental or coincidental incident, typically the discovery of a truck carrying a cargo of road signs which bear wording indicating that martial law is in effect.


While the imposition of martial law during times of national emergency is always a distinct yet distant possibility, nothing about the process mandates that signs proclaiming "... by order of martial law" be erected. A state of martial law is simply declared by the President, after which troops and/or National Guardsmen are deployed to enforce it. As such, if roads need to be closed, standard "Road Closed" signs are erected. It's not the presence or absence of a sign that's important; it's the authority of the armed guy manning the barricade that matters.

The more rational among us realize that even if the government had a contingency plan up its sleeve to suspend civil liberties, not even Washington bureaucrats would think special road signs needed to be printed up ahead of time to make all this legal. Again, nothing about martial law requires the erection of specific signs to make it so — martial law exists from the moment an authorized government official says it does. And as for the notion that special signs would be needed to communicate this state of affairs to the civilian populace, notices transmitted by television, radio, and the Internet would accomplish this purpose just fine.

If roads needed to be closed, ordinary signs announcing such a closure would serve that purpose. Manufacturing special ones would inevitably lead to the government's secret plans being found out, as leaks would soon reach the press from those who produced or transported the signs. Better to stockpile a zillion standard "Road Closed" signs than to risk inadvertently announcing what many Americans would see as an unwarranted armed takeover.

Okay, so if the signs are a ridiculous flourish in this form of rumor, why are they part of the story?

It all comes down to plot device. The signs, you see, are the means by which the government's evil plan is revealed to the unsuspecting citizenry. If a truck full of "Road Closed" signs spilled its contents, not even the most charismatic rumormonger would be able to convince anyone this was all tied to a federal plot to take over the country. But make them "By Order of Martial Law" signs, and the story now has legs to run on.

(Revelation by way of written communication turns up in urban legends whenever a device is needed to propel the story forward by way of explaining actions that have taken place. A fine example of this serves as the lynchpin for the Dishonest Note tale, wherein the miscreant gives away his ruse in the note he pens; in real life he'd either simply scribble something innocuous or just leave a blank piece of paper behind.)

Conspiracy rumors like this one play upon fears that the government has too much power and will use it against its citizens given any opportunity to do so. Versions of the rumor that bring WalMart into the picture as a partner in the impending takeover (by contracting to carry such signs in their trucks) further establish the basis for this rumor as one of fear of the all-powerful: Like the government, WalMart is viewed by many as a predatory entity too big to control with the ability to be a law unto itself.

Only once in U.S. history has a president declared martial law on a national basis, and that occurrence took place during the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus for "prisoners of war, spies, or aiders and abettors of the enemy" throughout the United States. Outside of wartime, all other instances of martial law in the U.S. have been imposed on a local basis by governors or mayors.

Last updated:   25 January 2013

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Sources:

    Bauch, Hubert.   "From Monsters to Model Citizens."
    The Ottawa Citizen.   1 December 1996   (p. A1).

    Blum, Andrew.   "Wal-Mart Chooses Emery to Handle US Heavyweight Cargo."
    Journal of Commerce.   8 January 1998   (p. A11).

    Journal of Commerce.   "HighwayMaster Unit Signs with Wal-Mart."
    21 April 1999   (p. A14).