This photo of a supposed FEMA concentration camp in Wyoming is actually a satellite image of a North Korean Forced Labor Camp.
PM editor-in-chief James Meigs appeared on Glenn Beck’s FOX news program twice to debunk conspiracy theories regarding supposed “concentration camps” being built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. You can read transcripts from those here and here. But PM’s research went beyond what could fit in the short segments. Below are more details regarding some of the most prevalent claims, and facts, uncovered through PM’s independent investigation.
CLAIM: “There is a minimum of one confirmed concentration camp built on American soil in rural Wyoming. ” The (Department of Homeland Security) accidentally placed these photos on a publicly accessible portion of their website ” (but) they were pulled within one hour.” The images are not gone forever though.”
FACT: These actually are legitimate images of “forced-labor colonies, camps, and prisons”–in North Korea. The images were taken from “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps,” a report prepared by the Washington D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Then someone manipulated the headers, photo dates and annotations. The original five images, showing a dorm for prisoners, forced-labor shops and guard towers, are here. “When we first got the photos, we had no idea they were prison camps,” said Matthew McKinzie, one of the men responsible for collecting the imagery. “The North Korean gulags are work gulags; the prisoners are forced to work and live in what look like North Korean villages. It wasn’t until we began interviewing former prisoners that we knew what we were looking at.” In the fakes, original maps and geographic coordinates have been covered by poorly pasted DHS logos. The whole thing may have been a hoax–the name of the made-up facility, “Swift Luck Greens,” is an anagram for “Left Wing Suckers”–but it’s evidence that once things get passed around the Internet, they can lose context and the wildest theory wins.
CLAIM: “More (evidence of) Concentration Camps in America for Americans. Yes, they are real. More (photographic) proof ” read it and weep, it’s coming!”
FACT: Camp Grayling, located in northern central Michigan, is the largest National Guard training center in the U.S. The National Guard, active and reserve components of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard all train there, practicing everything from helicopter gunnery to processing and care for prisoners of war. “The ‘camps’ you are referring to are used by our military police for training,” said Maj. Dawn Dancer, a public information officer for the Michigan National Guard. “In fact, one of our MP units just returned from a 12-month deployment where they oversaw the operations of a POW facility in Iraq. We are fortunate to have such a great training facility here.” This is also evidence of the life span of these theories: Far from being new, or even inspired by post-9/11 government buildup, Dancer first began responding to these photos in 1999. “I cannot believe this rumor about Camp Grayling is still alive,” she said.
A) “The Amtrak Railcar Repair Facility at Beech Grove, Ind., contains high security NSA-style people turnstiles, and high intensity/security lighting for 24-hour operation. These buildings have been sealed airtight and constructed to allow gas to be blown into all the buildings via the newly installed, two-story, hot air heating furnaces. [T]he (jobs) of Americans who were laid off there will be filled with foreigners, who will have no qualms about gassing Americans in the newly renovated gas chambers, in the Dachau and Auschwitz of America.”
-2:03-2:15 / 2:30-2:50: “This small building is the only way into a particular fenced area. Inside this building, we see more of the motion-activated detectors, electronic turnstiles, and prison bars. ” All of the renovations to this property have involved putting in new fencing, electronic turnstiles, concrete flooring in unused warehouse buildings, and putting in large gas furnaces in buildings that were never heated anytime in the past 20 years.”
-4:10-4:40: “In yet another fenced area, we see a large warehouse building at the end with the electronic turnstiles in front of it. The building is one that has a new concrete floor–and its doors and windows have all been blocked. Outside there are new gas pipes.”
-4:57-5:17: “The gas lines and gas pipes at the facility run the length of the buildings–and come out at some very, very large brand-new furnaces that have been installed at the buildings throughout the facility.”
A) This footage, which appears in multiple videos on YouTube, is from a “documentary” filmed 15 years ago—yet today, it’s been viewed nearly 1.5 million times online. The woman who made the video, Linda Thompson, was one of the pioneers of the militia movement in the United States–except that she was so extreme, the Southern Poverty Law Center says she embarrassed even her fellow milita members. (Most famously, she called for an armed march on Washington, D.C., to “take U.S. senators and congressmen into custody, hold them for trial, and, if necessary, execute them.”). Far from a death camp, Beech Grove is the primary maintenance facility for Amtrak’s long-distance trains, overhauling and repairing approximately 700 passenger cars a year. Company officials, who’ve heard these theories for years, welcomed our film crew, and John Grey, the superintendent of the facility, showed us anything we wanted to see.
B) The turnstiles and “prison bars”:According to Grey, that system was the company’s initial attempt at an electronic system to log in and out its 500 employees. They’re similar to a pair of subway turnstiles. As the technology evolved, so too did the Amtrak infrastructure: There are no more bars to funnel employees through one set of gates; now there are electronic kiosks across the property where workers can clock in and out. “That system was short-lived,” Grey says. “Now there are kiosks everywhere.”
-The “large warehouse” with windows and doors that are blocked: When the original footage was filmed, the “Coach 3” building, one of three original repair facilities on the property, was in the process of being emptied and consolidated into the other two massive warehouses on the property. That’s why it was boarded up. The building was demolished about seven years ago.
-New gas pipes and furnaces: In 1993, the existing centralized power plant for steam heat was deemed too expensive and inefficient. That year, the company upgraded to localized forced-air gas heaters. (Hence the “new gas pipes” seen in 1994.) “The volume of gas use went up, so we rerouted the gas line from a front entrance to the back entrance,” Grey said, “just like you would at your house.”
CLAIM: “500,000 plastic air-tight coffins in the middle of Atlanta Georgia. Apparently the Government is expecting a Half Million people to die relatively soon, and the Atlanta Airport is a major airline traffic hub, probably the biggest in the country, which means Georgia is a prime base to conduct military operations and coordination. It is also the home of the CDC, the Center for Disease Control. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but usually you don’t buy 500,000 plastic coffins ‘just in case something happens,’ you buy them because you know something is going to happen. These air tight seal containers would be perfect to bury victims of plague or biological warfare in, wouldn’t they?”
FACT: The black polypropylene products purported to be coffins are grave liners, or burial vaults, manufactured by Convington, Ga.-based Vantage Products. (In this case, they are examples of the company’s Standard Air Seal model.) The use of a burial vault, which prevents the collapse of cemetery ground and protects the casket, is a common requirement when a body is interred.
The filmed lot in Madison, Ga., is a Vantage storage facility. Of the 900,000 or so in-ground burials in the U.S. each year, a small percentage of those people prearranged their own caskets and vaults–which Vanguard holds at the storage facility until the appropriate time. According to company Vice President of Operations Michael Lacey, there are approximately 50,000 vaults in storage in Madison. “It’s nowhere near the quantity they talk about on the Internet,” he told the local Morgan County Citizen newspaper. Furthermore, Lacey has said the company maintains detailed records of product ownership and is audited annually, to insure all vaults are accounted for.
CLAIM: “FEMA is the executive arm of the coming police state and thus will head up all operations. The Presidential Executive Orders already listed on the Federal Register also are part of the legal framework for this operation.” (The site then lists 14 executive orders as examples.)
FACTS: In 1962, while juggling conflicts in Cuba and Vietnam, and the potential for nuclear war with the Soviets, President John F. Kennedy signed a series of executive orders that outlined the basic framework for agency responsibilities during a national emergency. Most of those have since been revoked, or rolled into a single, more comprehensive executive ordersigned by President Reagan. Safeguards were written into the current framework of responsibilities, declaring that any emergency preparation or actions “shall be consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”
According to Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale Law School, “The question of whether executive power could be abused so as to act inconsistently with the law has been a central constitutional concern for years. But the question in this case is whether it’s right to look at 47-year-old executive orders without studying what came after them. And the answer there is obviously no.”
The idea of the government seizing all the nation’s farmland or forcing Americans into labor camps is without basis–except in Hollywood. In the first X-Files movie, the character Dr. Alvin Kurtzweil meets agent Mulder in a dark alley. “Are you familiar with what the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s real power is?” Kurtzweil asks. “FEMA allows the White House to suspend Constitutional government on declaration of a national emergency. Think about that!”
Speculation about the agency was rampant after the film came out, leading a FEMA spokesman to tell The Washington Post in an article published on June 24, 1998: “You may emphatically state that FEMA does not have, never has had, nor will ever seek, the authority to suspend the Constitution.” In fact, it led to an internal FEMA memo, reading: “While entertaining and somewhat humorous to the employees of FEMA, some moviegoers may not understand that they are watching a fictional portrayal of the agency. ” Most people know us as the agency that responds to natural disasters, others believe we have a somewhat sinister role. For the latter, it is not realistic to think that we can convince them otherwise and it is advisable not to enter into debate on the subject.”
The FEMA camps conspiracy theory holds that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is planning to imprison US citizens in concentration camps.
This is typically described as following the imposition of martial law in the United States after a major disaster or crisis. In some versions of the theory, only suspected dissidents will be imprisoned. In more extreme versions, large numbers of US citizens will be imprisoned for the purposes of extermination as a New World Order is established.
The conspiracy theory has existed since the late 1970s but it has picked up greatly in popularity since the late 1990s.
FEMA was established in 1979 under executive order by President Jimmy Carter. It was established to coordinate the response to a major disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms local and state authorities. However, proponents of the conspiracy theory argue that this is merely a cover for the organization’s real purpose. This plan is to assume control of the United States following a major disaster or threat, either a genuine one or a manufactured one. Once a disaster or threat of one comes into being, the theory goes, martial law will be declared and FEMA’s emergency powers will come into operation. FEMA will then effectively be the government. The constitution will be suspended and FEMA will move US citizens into specially constructed camps, many of which have already been built. The organization has been described in this context as ‘the executive arm of the coming police state’. Proponents of the theory often play into racial fears, asserting that FEMA will use ‘urban gangs’ as auxiliaries to ensure order.
In many versions of the theory, ‘dissidents’ (typically defined as constitutionalists/patriots etc. rather than left-wingers) will merely be imprisoned. Others have gone so far as to argue that they will be sent to these camps to be murdered. Extreme versions of the theory state that plans are in place to imprison and kill apolitical American citizens in FEMA camps as part of a ‘population control’ plot. FEMA conspiracies are often worked in larger conspiracy narratives about ushering in a ‘New World Order’, meaning a totalitarianglobal government.
As evidence of the conspiracy, theory proponents point to supposed FEMA camps already existing in the United States. These, however, often have known, established purposes such as Amtrak facilities and Armed Forces training centers. In some cases, genuine internment camps have been pointed to but these have always been outside the United States.
Proponents have also cited a contingency plan (Rex 84) drafted in part by Oliver Northcalling for the suspension of the Constitution and the detainment of citizens in the event of a national crisis. This was aimed at left-wing activists, not the libertarians and right-wingers generally associated with FEMA theories. This has been linked to a 1970 document by Louis Giuffrida (years later, the director of FEMA) calling for the establishment of martial law in the event of an uprising by African American militants and the internment of millions of African Americans.
Conspiracy theorists have used the actual internment of Japanese Americans during World War II in specifically constructed camps as evidence that such a scenario at least has historic precedent. Similarly, the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands is an earlier precedent.
One of the first known references to FEMA concentration camps comes from a newsletter issued by Posse Comitatus in 1982, with the warning that ‘hardcore patriots’ were to be detained in them. The prevalence of the conspiracy theory increased in line with the rise of the militia movement in the 1990s. A supposed FEMA camp was featured in Linda Thompson’s influential film America Under Siege (in reality, the ‘FEMA camp’ was an Amtrak repair facility). Following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the conspiracy theory was discussed by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Domestic Terrorism. The theory’s inclusion in the plot of the 1998 X-Files movie showed its growing reach.
Fears of FEMA declined in the early 2000s as foreign terrorists were perceived as the major threat. However, the late-2000s recession and the 2008 election of Barack Obama has renewed opposition to the federal government. In this context there has been a resurgence in the militia movement and, with it, the FEMA camps conspiracy theory. This time, however, the theory has been able to reach more mainstream right-wing circles while it had previously been confined to the far-right. FOX News personality Glenn Beck, for example, devoted airtime to it on three shows, saying that he could not debunk it (although he later stated that he did not believe the theory). Emails from the magazine National Review have also promoted the theory. Sitting Congresswoman Michele Bachmann alluded to the theory while in office, as have other Republican Party politicians.
Such has been the upsurge that FEMA itself has gone on record saying that it has no plans to detain citizens. However, in an internal memo, FEMA conceded that it could not hope to convince a large number that it had no sinister plans and cautioned that it was ‘better not to enter into debate on the subject.’ The magazine Popular Mechanics has published debunks of the various claims of the conspiracy theorists.
FEMA concentration camps exist in the mind of a particularly loopy bunch of conspiracy theorists who believe that mass internment facilities have been built across the continental United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in preparation for a future declaration of martial law (or similar nefarious ends).
The camps allegedly come complete with barbed wire fences straight out of World War II, boxcars for moving people around, and plastic coffins for burying them. (Why not just burn the corpses Nazi-style? Is FEMA concerned about its greenhouse gas output?
While FEMA facilities exist, they usually consist of storage and temporary-housing locations. The number of FEMA facilities is far lower than conspiracists would have you believe, and FEMA itself is a bumbling bureaucratic nightmare. If this is the New World Order, at least it’ll be quite inept at being Orwellian.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency(FEMA) is a United States government agency tasked with the effective management of major emergencies within the country, including ensuring the continuity of governmentduring a large-scale disaster such as a nuclear war. It provides federal relief to areas afflicted by natural disasters, and has drawn a great deal of criticism for its face-palming incompetence in doing so, which is largely a result of its being used as a dumping-ground for political lackeys too important to ignore (but not important or dangerous enough to make Secretary of State) than of any incompetence of the members
FEMA was originally a weird bureaucratic anomaly – set up by a series of executive orders (1978-1979) rather than by an act of Congress. In 2002 it was finally codified into law and made a component of the Department of Homeland Security. As well as providing large-scale emergency-management, FEMA is also the largest flood-insurer in the United States, mainly because most private insurance companies don’t offer flood-insurance since it is generally expensive.
FEMA has been the focus of a great number of nutbar conspiracy theories, documented below.
Exact claims about the purpose and nature of the camps vary from one crank to another. Here are some favorites:
FEMA, naturally, is the shadow government which will run the show after the puppet government dissolves through a series of executive orders issued by the President. The idea that FEMA could pull off such a masterstroke is surprisingly widespread — especially considering their massivedisplay of incompetence during Hurricane Katrina.
FEMA supposedly has the power to declare martial law and round up half a million American citizens into concentration camps (the subject of this article). In fact, Centers for Disease Control actually doeshave the power to intern large numbers of citizens pretty much immediately as needed. (And they’d even have a better cover story — it’s for your health and safety!)
This claim is usually backed up by noting that Mount Weather, FEMA’s headquarters in Virginia, is a sort-of spare Washington, D.C. (in case the real one gets nuked) — and the purported location of the US Shadow Government.
Taking our guns!
A common supposed motivation for FEMA camps is to allow the evil UN to take away everyone’s guns. Given that 1 in 4 Americans own at least one gun, how this would be an efficient method whatsoever is anybody’s guess.
North American Union / One-World Government
What use could FEMA camps possibly have? Why not use them to detain dissenting US citizens after the consolidation of the North American Unionin preparation for the establishment of a one world government (or New World Order).
Straight up genocide
… Except all the ones who fled Germany.
They are concentration camps, after all.
Imminent world-ending disaster
This theory, at least, assumes that FEMA is kinda-sorta a good actor. FEMA is in on the know: a looming disaster will render most of the world unusable and billions will die. Thankfully, FEMA will be there to keep America chugging along!
Unfortunately for those seeking a unified fascist one-world government, FEMA is not your guy.
There are several videos purporting to show footage of the camps, as well as shots of ominous-looking fences and webpages listing locations of over 800 camps, allegedly all fully guarded and staffed full-time despite being completely empty. The intrinsic implausibility of people simply being able to walk up to the sites of heavily-guarded camps that the dystopian fasci-state wants to keep secret, videotape them, walk away unmolested, and disseminate the videos without any consequences, is apparently not considered, even though it flatly contradictsthe central premise of the conspiracy theories in question.
In addition to the implausibility of such a massive conspiracy being kept relatively well hidden (the sheeple haven’t woken up yet, have they?), the evidence is damaged by the fact that the videos and pictures actually depict everything from National Guard training centers to Amtrak repair stations to North Korean labor camps. (Hell, when FEMA actually did lock up Katrina survivors in a trailer park and refuse to let them speak to the media, both the local news and FAIR reported on it.)
A recent claim is that House Resolution 645 from 2009’s 111th Congress authorizes the creation of FEMA concentration camps. There really is a H.R. 645, and a careful reading of the bill shows that they are making camps and that FEMA is involved. However, anyone with reading comprehension beyond the average third grader will notice that the bill is to authorize the creation of refugeecamps for humanitarian assistance and temporary housing after disasters (and “other appropriate uses”), and that FEMA is only involved in the sense that the locations of the camps are set up along FEMA’s districts. Furthermore, the camps for practicing responses to national disasters are with coordination between federal, state, and local authorities. The reason you don’t have private access to the camps is that they’re on military installations, which are generally not open to the public. Not scary.
Proponents of FEMA camps tend to take one of two perspectives when it comes to Google Earth.
- The first side asserts that they’ve found tons of concentration camps on Google Earth. If you believe this is the case, please see Is That a FEMA Camp?
- The second side believes there are no FEMA camps on Google Earth, because Google is in league with the government to cover up their existence
A common tactic used as “proof” of FEMA camps is to quote mine bills that have the words “FEMA” and “camps” in the same paragraph, and zoom in to the point you can only see the quote-mined sentence. This applies to all instances this happens, not just FEMA Camp bills: If they cite the bill, look up the bill, and read it yourself to see the context. If they don’t cite it, then the bill either doesn’t exist, or they don’t want to be embarrassed by the quote-mined sentence when some sheeple comes in.
So far, the only flaw in this otherwise brilliantly executed conspiracy was the mistake of publicly advertising jobs to work at the camps. It’s always the small details the conspirators slip up on.
The FEMA camp conspiracy theory has been alluded to by Republican leadership candidate Michele Bachmann, though she did not say FEMA. Glenn Beck, who to his credit later backpedaled and hosted a debunking segment featuring a guest from Popular Mechanics, promoted the theory as well. Still, the theory remains popular among the survivalist community and the militia movement, and there’s no shortage of adherents on the Internet.
The idea that the US government is planning to intern masses of people has some history, and is not just limited to the far-right. In the 1980s, opponents of Ronald Reagan‘s Central America policy on the far-left thought that FEMA was planning a mass roundup of them just before the imminent U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. (See Rex 84 below.) Barely skipping a beat, it became a theory on the right-wing black helicopter/militia circuit in the ’90s, among Alex Jones followers and truthers in the 2000s, and today by the more insane opponents of the Obama administration.
Real-life internment plans
During the early years of World War II in the years 1939 to ’41, the FBI did maintain lists of “subversive” people, collated from files on political activists and immigrants. These people were divided into three groups: “A” for those to be arrested immediately upon outbreak of war or other hostilities, “B” for those deemed less dangerous, and “C” for enemy sympathizers. The attorney general of the time, Francis Biddle, found out about the lists and deemed them “dangerous” and “illegal”. J. Edgar Hoover, however, just covered up their existence and continued the program under another name, telling his agents to just not mention it.
Readiness Exercise 1984, or Rex 84 for short, was a “scenario & drill” created under the Reagan administration by Oliver North and FEMA deputy director John Brinkerhoff. Throughout the Reagan administration, the black ops of the US military and intelligence agencies effectively ran wild, especially in Latin America, where Reagan’s aggressive intervention many times verged on intentional genocide by right-wing “death squads” with CIA backing. In this violent environment, the “scenario” described in Rex 84 is rather disturbing. It called for the rounding up and preemptive detention of human rights & anti-war activists, as well as Latino immigrants.
The ironic part about Rex 84, which many wingnuts seem not to grasp, is that the program was targeted against civil rights groups, anti-war groups, organized labor, immigrants, and minority communities in support of hegemonic, capitalist, right-wing American business interests (see Allen Dulles). FEMA camps are not, as conspiracy theorists would have it, some grand plot against conservative American patriots; rather, the only administration to seriously consider interning dissidents was planning on doing so against the sorts of left-wing activists that the American far-right despise the most (next to the federal government, the NWO, and the “international bankers”, that is
Internment in the past
There has been one time in America’s history when the government did send its own citizens to internment camps. During World War II, about 110,000–120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from the West Coast to internment camps in the interior of the country, on the grounds that they would act as a fifth column against the American war effort. Privately, many white farmers on the West Coast also viewed it as a way to get rid of their Japanese competitors. This incident is often brought up by those who claim that the government has the will to do it again (occasionally claiming that some of the planned FEMA camps are renovated Japanese internment centers), neglecting to mention the fact that the backlash against internment very quickly sapped that very will.
In the 1830s, the US also deported many Native Americans of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations) from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida to the “Indian Territory” in what is now Oklahoma, in what has come to be called the Trail of Tears, one of the most notorious episodes in the American Indian Genocide. Notably, this happened despite the Supreme Court explicitly declaring the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to be unconstitutional. A similar, albeit smaller-scale, episode occurred with the Navajo tribe’s “Long Walk” in the mid-1860s from their homeland along the Arizona–New Mexico border to Bosque Redondo, a reservation/internment camp in southeastern New Mexico. In this case, fortunately, the Navajo were able to successfully reclaim most of their land, albeit only after experiencing a massive loss of life. Despite the atrocities done in both instances, they weren’t US citizens at the time