Ron Paul Feeds Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory That Government Could Turn U.S. Into A Concentration Camp

Reposted by arrangement with Think Progress

While last night’s Republican debate offered few surprises as the primary field wrapped themselves in the legacy of Ronald Reagan and roundly denounced the Obama administration’s fiscal, foreign, and social policies, Ron Paul stood out with his unique views on the border fence endorsed by Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain. Paul said:

I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. 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.

Watch it:

Paul’s embrace of extreme right-wing conspiracy theories about a U.S. government which enslaves its citizens is even more visible in his disgust with FEMA and his answer to a question at the Ames Straw Poll about whether “HR 645 [The National Emergency Center Establishment Act] could lead to detainment camps for American citizens during martial law.” He responded:

Yeah, that’s their goal, they’re setting up the stage for violence in this country, no doubt about it.

The belief that FEMA, or various other government agencies, might be planning to restrict the movements of Americans or turn sections of the U.S., if not the entire country, into a detainment camp is traced back to the 1950s and, in the 1990s, the far-right “Patriot”/militia movement.

Chip Berlet, a senior researcher at Political Research Associates, told ThinkProgress:

The main font of this [FEMA roundup conspiracy theory] is in the John Birch society publications since the 1950s. The John Birch Society is where Glenn Beck and a lot of the right wing talk radio hosts gets their conspiracy theories. The conspiracy theory was picked up by the antisemitic Spotlight newspaper and the Christic Institute, a progressive, anti-CIA group. In the 1990s the militia movement takes the theory.

While the “American concentration camp” meme has been debunked numerous times as a conspiracy theory coming out of various extremist movements, the sinister anti-government rumors dating back as much as 60 years seem to have found a spot at the table at last night’s Republican debate. Berlet doesn’t see much hope for an end to the FEMA roundup conspiracy theory, telling ThinkProgress:

The conspiracy theory grooms you to be afraid of the government, makes you acept laissez-faire ideas of government involvement, and puts you in an apocalyptic mindset. You still have people to this day who take it so far they form militias and you have people in the John Birch society who say don’t take it so far but still promote the FEMA roundup conspiracy theory.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. It’s sad that Dr. Paul, who has some fresh and important ideas, is nevertheless, at bottom, a crank. On the other hand, Peter Dale Scott, a man very much of the Left, comes close to subscribing to the same concentration camp theory.

  2. Gitmo, is outside US law. It would be easy to place trouble-makers there. No more “Habeus Corpus nonsense.

  3. The concentration camp folklore talks about tens of thousands of internees. There’s no room for that many people in Gitmo. Anyway, Habeus Corpus has been suspended before — by Abraham Lincoln. No need to go “offshore.” In any case I don’t subscribe to this particular conspiracy theory.

  4. In Hutto TX there is a camp where illegals are interred for extended stays, and I’ll remind everyone that we have more people in jail than China, in real figures. Meaning, that we have 5 times the incarceration rate of China.

    Surveillance is ubiquitous, where literally every electronic transmission we make is recorded. We do have camps and facilities that are designed to house people in case of “national emergencies” and the like. I do think there is a point on the part of those who worry about militarization of America.

    We’re seeing US soldiers increasingly brought to patrol the US. Posse Commitatus and Habeas Corpus are both just quaint notions. It’s not crazy to think that if there were some widespread “instability” that many of our most compelling, counter-cultural figures could be “detained” for an extended period. We do have “contingency plans” for these events. Notice how Egypt and Israel among other “allies” have resorted to the same actions when they found themselves tangled in “instability.”

    Perhaps all this is just taking a malicious reading of our benevolent intentions. But, then again, Bureaucracies have done far more pernicious acts all in the name of keeping us safe–from Japanese interred to Tuskegee Airmen to nuclear radiation exposure.

  5. Well, I will say this. I do not put it past the powers that be to suspend civil liberties and round up Americans who are “troublemakers,” should said powers feel themselves truly threatened. And in fact there probably has been some contingency planning for something of the sort. However, the view Paul is espousing here says that camps capable of housing thousand of Americans have already been set up, and that the government is sitting on go, ready to round up gun owners or welfare recipients or anti-tax protesters — just who the target is depends on which particular conspiracy theorist is talking. The word for the past 20 years has been that the government (or alternatively, the New World Order as represented by the UN, with blue helmets doing the interning) is about to strike. Yet it hasn’t happened, and it isn’t likely that it ever will. To keep saying for twenty years that a vast conspiracy exists to suspend the Constitution and lock up tens of thousands (or even millions, by some accounts) of Americans, pretty much defines crankishness for normal, thougtful people.

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