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The novel coronavirus is a scam. Lockdowns are a government psychological operation (psyop) devised to soften us up for martial law. Antimaskers and other medical dissidents are headed for concentration camps. If you veer at all from the mainstream sectors of the internet, you probably don’t need to be told any of this.

The problem with this kind of misinformation is not that it’s absurd, it’s that it obscures reality. While COVID concentration camps might be utter nonsense, they contain a kernel of truth that deserves to be confronted.

One of the publications at the forefront of this kind of fake news is Law Enforcement Today, a website for cops whose politics veer slightly to the right of Adolf Hitler. Among some of its more highly-trafficked falsehoods: “Is Washington State looking to detain residents in 2022 version of internment camps? Sure looks that way.”  

All 50 states have laws for isolating people to mitigate the spread of especially dangerous communicable diseases. In 2020, when the Washington state legislature decided to modernize the language of its HIV/AIDS code sections, some hothead noticed this and decided (for whatever reason) that the meeting’s actual purpose was establishing concentration camps for medical dissidents. The claim spread to fake news website Gateway Pundit, other fake news sites like Law Enforcement Today ran with it, and now the idea is taken very seriously in the places where misinformation is otherwise known as “do your own research.” (See this PDF for the state legislature’s response to the controversy.)

Since COVID is heavily politicized and vaccination is equated with being a godless commie, it didn’t take long for the COVID concentration camp conspiracy theory to morph into the “fact” that a police state is being ushered in on the heels of the scamdemic, complete with camps for freedom lovin’ conservatives.

It sounds absurd, and it is absurd. But then again, we live in a country that has the infrastructure in place to start popping political dissidents into internment camps. This is a holdover from the Cold War, and we have the conservative far-right to thank for this situation.

A veteran of World War II and Korea, Louis Onorato “Jeff” Giuffrida retired from the Army as a colonel in 1971. His 1970 thesis for the Army War College is an infamous document titled National Survival — Racial Imperative. This is “a pseudophilosophical, historical analysis of the origins of racial prejudice,” according to journalist Matthew Cunningham-Cook, which calls for “the establishment of concentration camps to imprison potentially millions of black Americans in the event of a revolutionary uprising in the United States.”

After leaving the Army, Giuffrida went to work for California Governor Ronald Reagan, establishing the California Specialized Training Institute (CSTI). It was here that he finally got his chance to lay the groundwork for the aforementioned concentration camps. The institute trained police from across the country in disaster response and counterinsurgency, spreading his ideas far beyond the golden state.

Counterinsurgency doctrine acknowledges that unjust societies create conditions that demand social change, and that social change exists on a continuum: on one end are the reformers, people working within the system; and on the opposite end lay the revolutionaries, who will pick up a gun or build an IED to make their point. From this perspective, the law-abiding social reformer is little more than the precursor to political violence and must be treated accordingly.

A CSTI course called “Civilian Violence and Terrorism: Officer Survival and Internal Security” makes it clear that movements for social justice are a threat to the system, and therefore valid targets of counterinsurgency operations. The text was approved by Giuffrida himself, and undoubtedly reflects the thinking of Governor Ronald Reagan:

With the exception of the mentally deranged or the intoxicated person, all acts of illegal and criminal violence have roots somewhere in our present social, economic, or political environment.

[Our] mission can be accomplished only if we fully understand that . . . legitimate violence is integral to our form of government for it is from this source that we can continue to purge our weaknesses . . . [and] illegal violence has roots which are attached to emotional situations of political, economic, or social inequality.

It is necessary for the police executive to treat his occupation like all other executives. He must do it well but not so well that he puts himself out of a job. He must reduce crime but not stop it.

He faces an impossible task of being required by law (actually or by his own interpretation) to preserve a free and democratic society and at the same time he must eliminate crime and violence. These tasks are totally incompatible. . . .

When Reagan became the president, he installed Giuffrida as the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). With the help of Oliver North and George H. W. Bush, FEMA became a vital part of a parallel, secret government. Like CSTI in California, FEMA was intended to be the last bastion of order after the nation succumbed to chaos, whether the disaster was natural, nuclear, or communist. There was already an elaborate, top-secret infrastructure that dated back to the 1950s for keeping the government running in case of nuclear winter or race war, and Giuffrida was tasked with making sure it had the latest technology for rounding up people with the wrong politics.

In 1985, Giuffrida resigned from FEMA after a congressional subcommittee discovered that he had approved the construction of a $170,000 residence, to be paid for with public funds and built on government property. After his disgraced exit from public service, Giuffrida went on to work as a security consultant for political cult leader (and all-around wingnut) Lyndon LaRouche.

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Civil libertarians were appalled when they heard what FEMA was up to. But with the end of the Cold War and the election of Bill Clinton, the White House plan for martial law became relegated to just another right-wing conspiracist talking point.

Continuity of Government (COG) is the federal government plan for keeping the country running in case of a nuclear war or other devastating attack. One of the key nodes of this system is Mount Weather in Virginia, home of the FEMA command center and the site of the underground, (theoretically) nuclear blast-proof White House. If there’s a nuclear attack, the National Gallery has plans to dispatch a helicopter to Mount Weather with works by DaVinci, Vermeer, and Raphael.

COG was implemented following the terror attacks on 9/11. Bush spent the day in Air Force One, hiding out in American airspace, while most of the congressional leadership were sent to Mount Weather. Meanwhile:

[Dick] Cheney jumped into action in his bunker beneath the East Wing to ensure continuity in government. He immediately began to create his shadow government by ordering one hundred mid-level executive officials to move to specially designated underground bunkers and stay there twenty-four hours a day. They would not be rotated out, he informed them, for ninety days, since there was evidence, he hinted, that the terrorist organization al-Qa’ida, which had masterminded the attack, had nuclear weapons. The shadow government, as a result, needed to be ready to take over the government from the bunkers. (Warshaw, The Co-Presidency of Bush and Cheney)

“The next ninety days after 9/11 saw the swift implementation of the key features attributed to COG planning … in the 1980s,” Peter Dale Scott writes in The American Deep State, including the militarization of agencies under the newly established Department of Homeland Security. “The clearest example was the administration’s Project Endgame — a ten-year plan, initiated in September 2001, to expand detention camps, at a cost of $400 million in Fiscal Year 2007 alone. This implemented the central feature of the [plans drawn up by] Louis Giuffrida and Oliver North in 1984.” 

Jesse Ventura and Alex Jones play in the woods

Jesse Ventura and Alex Jones play in the woods

In September 2021, an old clip from Jesse Ventura’s Conspiracy Theory TV show started making the rounds of social media. The former Minnesota governor, joined by InfoWars supplement pitchman Alex Jones, is skulking in the woods in Georgia, where he spies something ominous: stacks of molded polypropylene air shields. They’re not coffins — they’re the large plastic boxes that coffins are placed in when you bury a loved one (or not-so-loved one). In fact, they’re obviously way too large to be coffins. And it couldn’t have escaped the attention of Ventura’s producers that they were trespassing on the property of Vantage Products Corporation, the Covington, Georgia-based plastic fabrication company. But none of this matters to Ventura, who is in search of something even more important than conspiracies: Ratings.

According to Jones, these “coffins” belong to FEMA, which is stockpiling them for the next pandemic. How this equates with martial law or rounding up conservatives I can’t say, but with the quick-cut editing and scary music, it really is rather convincing.

Next, they visit T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an ICE jail in San Antonio, Texas. Jones claims that this is a concentration camp, which it must be — as Ventura points out, it is next to a railroad track. Just like the Nazi concentration camps in World War II.

Ventura is shocked and dismayed that he can’t just waltz in the front door of the facility. When someone finally does answer the door, he is big — taller than Ventura, even, with a perfectly pressed blue uniform and a 9mm pistol on his waist. This guy is all business, the modern incarnation of a ruthless Gestapo henchman. More Nazi than man, as they say.

Just kidding; Ventura and Jones were met by a receptionist. Among other things, she had to explain to the uncomprehending former governor that ICE is an acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Here’s a shocking conspiracy theory you might want to try on for size: A federal agency with little oversight, ties to far-right politics, and several smaller law enforcement agencies under its command runs a network of camps for the mass detention of civilians without trial. The network began with Bill Clinton, and presidents ever since have expanded upon it. The most notorious was Trump, but it’s only grown in size and power under Biden.

Of course, we’re talking about the Department of Homeland Security and two of its most notorious offspring, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But those agencies don’t prey on conservatives. They prey on undocumented immigrants and, increasingly, American citizens who merely look like undocumented immigrants.

I said at the beginning of this piece that conspiracy theories obscure reality, and they do. But so does bigotry.