7 Craziest Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories About Internment Camps
Concentration and internment camps appear to have lodged themselves in a particularly dark and stubborn corner of the conservative mind. But in the past few years, thanks in large part to Fox News host-turned-conservative media mogul Glenn Beck, specters of concentration camps have started turning up everywhere a conservative looks, from climate change resolutions to census forms to job postings. Below are the seven craziest concentration camp conspiracy theories, and the people who propagated them.
1. Glenn Beck
The revival of concentration camps in the United States is the tune Glenn Beck just can’t stop singing. He was most recently at it this past week, when he warned that President Barack Obama is about to snap from the pressures of his allegedly failing presidency and start rounding people up.
Of course, “you don’t scoop up a bunch of Jews in Germany over night,“ Beck said. “It takes you ten or fifteen or twenty years.” He argued that we’d spent the past decade or so “dehumanizing each other” to the point that it would be easy for Obama to ship his enemies off. (Yes, his statement about partisanship dehumanizing opponents and his theory that Obama was preparing a fascist prison-state occurred one right after the other.)
That’s hardly the first time Beck has invoked concentration camps when it comes to the Obama administration. In 2009 he warned that Obama’s economists were pushing the country into a totalitarian state, when citizens would be easily rounded up into FEMA camps (more on those later).
In fact, Beck invoked concentration camps just one month before his Obama-as-spoiled-brat theory. Following the White House Correspondents Dinner, in which Vice-President Joe Biden starred in a spoof of himself with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Beck noted that the pair had gone to get tattoos. “Why are they getting tattoos?” Beck asked during his radio show, even as his website the Blaze ran an article calling the send-up hilarious. “Don’t they know that they’re the ones that are going to be running the camps? They don’t get the tattoos, they give the tattoos.”
2. Agenda 21 and FEMA Camps Combine to Enforce a One-World Urban Currency
About those FEMA camps: Beck is pulling from a gnarly tangle of theories that have sprung up over the past decade, combining everything from geopolitical conspiracies to control currencies to corralling an obeisant population into giant megacities.
The theory starts with Agenda 21, a non-binding agreement from the United Nations to use local funds to invest in more sustainable infrastructure and environmental development. This has been demagogued by the fringe right into a plot by the U.N. to gain sovereignty over U.S. townships, consolidate its citizens, abolish private property, and seize its resources under the guise of fighting climate change, and, in some versions to propagate a one-world currency, a claim usually followed by a pitch to invest in gold.
How will people be rounded up? That’s where the FEMA camps come in. Theories about FEMA floated around the fever swamps of the right since the mid-80s, gained some prominence after Waco and Ruby Ridge in the 90s, and finally erupted in the early days of President Obama’s administration, when they became the means by which millions of citizens would be corralled into urban camps (cities are camps in waiting, as solitary sources control water, power, gas, etc.).
What’s an internment enthusiast like Beck think about all this? Well, that would depend on when you ask him. In 2009, when he was still a Fox News host, Beck spoke about the camps on air, saying he didn’t necessarily believe in them but “could not debunk” their existence either, making vague premonitions about the coming “totalitarian state.” After a wave of criticism, Beck backed off, and even invited a Popular Mechanics writer on his show to thoroughly refute the idea (for instance, that video purporting to show a FEMA internment camp was actually an AMTRAK repair facility).
But the “debunking” of the FEMA camps hasn’t killed the conspiracy, just its most extreme iteration. Then Senate candidate Ted Cruz bought into the Agenda 21 fearmongering in 2012 (blaming George Soros, natch), and the 2012 Republican Party even adopted opposition to it into its platform. Meanwhile, Republican candidates can still be heard giving credence to FEMA camps at townhalls and campaign rallies.
3. Michele Bachmann Outsmarts the Census and Americorps
Glenn Beck has his legislative counterpart in Michele Bachmann, who gleefully spots the shadow of future camps in even the most benign aspects of the American political system. Take, for instance, the census, which Bachmann didn’t. She protested the decennial survey by declaring it a possible prelude to internment camps.
"If we look at American history, between 1942 and 1947, the data that was collected by the Census Bureau was handed over to the FBI and other organizations at the request of President Roosevelt, and that's how the Japanese were rounded up and put into the internment camps," Bachmann said. "I'm not saying that that's what the Administration is planning to do, but I am saying that private personal information that was given to the Census Bureau in the 1940s was used against Americans to round them up, in a violation of their constitutional rights, and put the Japanese in internment camps."
Like Beck, Bachmann has a history of this stuff. Just a couple months before, she’d warned conservative talk show host Sue Jeffers that Americorps could be masking a plot to build mandatory reeducation camps for America’s youth.
“I believe that there's a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service,” she said. “And the real concern is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go and work in some of these politically correct forums.”
4. World War II-Style Internment Camps, From Scalia to Beck
The specter of America’s WWII internment camps for the Japanese has served as a muse for more conservatives than just Bachmann, all of whom enjoy reimagining the camps as set for them by their political enemies.
This view has been aired by none other than Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. “That’s what was going on - the panic about the war and the invasion of the Pacific and whatnot,” Scalia told a room of law school students. “That’s what happens. It was wrong, but I would not be surprised to see it happen again, in time of war. It’s no justification, but it is the reality,”
That “reality” was picked up a couple weeks later and amplified by — wait for it — Glenn Beck, who believed the camps would be used for opponents of climate change, Obamacare, and pro lifers. Obama had chosen not to use his election has an opportunity to unite people (“what Jesus would have done,” Beck confirmed), and instead was going to eliminate anybody who stood in his way. “That’s what Scalia is saying,” Beck said, fairly inaccurately. “It’s going to happen again.”
5. Ron Paul Thinks the Whole U.S. Could Become an Internment Camp
Ron Paul, who’s also floated the Scalia theory of the Military Commissions Act being used to justify future internment camps, took the idea a step further: he thinks all of America will be turned into one big concentration camp once the borders are walled in. During a 2012 GOP primary debate on immigration, Paul responded to a proposal to build a wall along the border by warning it could double as a prison wall.
“I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in,” Paul said, somewhat to the confusion of the other candidates. “In economic turmoil, the people want to leave with their capital. And there’s capital controls and there’s people control. So, every time you think of the fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in.”
6. Government Advertises for an “Internment / Resettling Specialist”
By conspiracy theorist standards, Paul’s theory was hardly a leap of logic. In 2009 a job posting for the U.S. Army was all the right wing needed to sound the alarm.
The job posting, for “Internment / Resettlement Specialists,” was spotted by WorldNetDaily and then made the leap to the conservative radio world. “There’s an ad for National Guardsman to run internment camps!” Michael Savage declared over ominous music.
No, there wasn’t. The ad clearly stated that the resettlement specialists “provide rehabilitative, health, welfare, and security to US military prisoners within a confinement or correctional facility.” The Bush administration had employed people in the exact same position. And no one paused to ask why a government plotting a massive secret conspiracy would, you know, advertise it.
7. Your Doctor’s Going to Report Your Guns
And, as always, there’s the guns. Last fall, Gun Owners of America President Larry Pratt repeated the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Obamacare requires doctors to ask patients whether they own a firearm as part of a plot to round up gun owners.
“They are doing it to the whole country, they field tested it on veterans, and now it’s the whole country,” Pratt told a right wing radio show. “We are looking at a major assault on the right to keep and bear arms, it is reminiscent of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, where they used doctors as part of their torture routines and got people sent to the camps for improvement of their mental health.” If that’s true, improvement of mental health might not be the worst thing in the world for those on this list.