By now you or someone you know has received a hoax text announcing martial law. With some minor variations, the texts all read the same:
- In 48 to 72 hours the president will evoke what is called the Stafford act. Just got off the phone with some of my military friends in DC who just got out of a two hour briefing. The president will order a two week mandatory quarantine for the nation. Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two week supply of everything. Please forward.
The National Security Council issued a rare public statement warning the public that the Stafford act text was a hoax.
— NSC (@WHNSC) March 16, 2020
How can you tell the Stafford Act Text is a Hoax?
Even if you refuse to accept the NSC’s word on the matter, the text message has some telltale signs of a hoax.
First, the text promises secret insider knowledge. “Just got off the phone with some of my military friends in DC who just got out of a two hour briefing.” This is a vague enough proclamation that it sounds plausible.
Second, no specifics of these friends are given. Who are these friends? Why did they call this specific person?
Third, the hoaxers ask you to spread the message. Why would anyone acting in good faith want to incite a panic?
If an emergency quarantine were able to be declared, the plan would be Top Secret. No one’s friends would just get out of a briefing and start alerting people. THEY WOULD GO TO PRISON FOR LEAKING CLASSIFIED INFORMATION.
If such an emergency plan were in the works and higher command wanted the story to get out, they’d leak it to a credible outlet. Not share chain-letter style text messages.
There’s also tradecraft involved in sharing classified information.
None of the telltale signs (and no I won’t share how to leak classified secrets here) were present in that alert.
UPDATE: Other outlets are now reporting that the Stafford Act text is a foreign disinformation campaign:
The Trump administration is alleging that a foreign disinformation campaign is underway aimed at spreading fear in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, three U.S. officials said Monday. On Sunday, federal officials began confronting what they said was a deliberate effort by a foreign entity to sow fears of a nationwide quarantine amid the virus outbreak.
Agencies took coordinated action Sunday evening to deny that any such plans were put in place, as they tried to calm a nation already on edge by disruptions to daily life caused by the virus.