David Shuster was making fun of Glenn Beck's preoccupation with militia-style right-wing conspiracy theories yesterday on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and wondering why mainstream conservatives have so much trouble standing up to and denouncing this stuff.
There's actually a reason why mainstream conservatives never stand up to the far-right elements within their own coalition: they find them very useful.
It has ever been so. Harkening back to the days when Monarchists attacked the Enlightenment's pro-democracy thinkers as a plotting cabal of elites (which is where the old Illuminati conspiracy theories originate), the wealthy and those otherwise invested in maintaining the status quo in our civilization have always found these kinds of conspiracy theories a handy way of stirring up working-class resentment against progressive reformers.
That's why they'll be gaining in popularity as long as Democrats are in power: Because mainstream conservatives need them to make their wedge politics work.
So watch Beck telling folks that he "couldn't debunk" the existence of supposed concentration camps being built by FEMA:
Funny thing about "not debunking" the FEMA camps: Beck no doubt is discovering that it's not easy to "debunk" the existence of something for which there is simply no evidence of its existence in the first place.
In reality, these claims originated back in the 1990s with the far-right "Patriot"/militia movement. I first heard about them back in 1994, when I attended this militia meeting in Maltby, Wash.:
The fellow up on the stage is a guy named Bob Fletcher, who at the time was the chief spokesman for the Militia of Montana. The map he has up on the stage with him shows what he claimed was a "United Nations reserve" being created just to the east of us, in the Northern Cascades, in which the feds were busy creating concentration camps, run by FEMA, which he assured us were being built to hold gun owners after the government rounded them all up.
Of course, no such camps existed. When I tried to get Fletcher or other MOM officials to help me pinpoint their exact location so I could go check them out, they never were able to get back to me on that.
I described these characters in my first book, In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest,:
Fletcher is a self-described ``congressional researcher’’ who came to work for the Militia of Montana in the fall of 1994. Within a short span of time, Fletcher became the prime speaker at MOM events, delivering the militia message with a little more deftness than the often-erratic [John] Trochmann [the founder of the Militia of Montana].
For the better part of the next year, especially during the uproar that followed Oklahoma City, Fletcher was the point man for the militia movement. When there was a televised Town Hall meeting on the militias in Seattle, Fletcher -- backed by an audience stacked with Patriots -- was the spokesman. When informal congressional hearings were held on the militias, Fletcher and Trochmann sat together and answered questions.
... Fletcher also ran the militia meetings very smoothly. He was adept at saying things that were simultaneously pessimistic and empowering:
``My personal feeling is that it's too late to stop this,'' he would tell crowds. As for surviving, he’d say, ``I recommend a year's worth of food and plenty of ammo.''
John Trochmann either originated or became the chief promoter of many of these conspiracy theories:
The New World Order, he says, is a shadowy one-world-government group that conspires to put an end to the U.S. Constitution by subsuming it under the "Communist" United Nations. Conspirators include the President, the Speaker of the House, and most financial and political leaders around the world.
The new world government Trochmann envisions would be a population-controlling totalitarian regime. Guns will be confiscated. Urban gangs like the Bloods and the Crips will be deployed to conduct house-to-house searches and round up resisters. Thousands of citizens will be shipped off to concentration camps and liquidated, all in the name of reducing the population.
... Trochmann told me that Ruby Ridge and Waco were mere harbingers, test runs for what they intended to start doing to average citizens. Street-gang members from the Bloods and Crips, he said, were being trained in Spokane right then for house-to-house-search-and-seizure techniques. When the big crackdown came, they’d round people up, ship them off to concentration camps (which he said were already being built), and then ``liquidate’’ them until the population was stabilized.
The pretext, he said, would be ``most likely a food shortage.’’ And they would start with urban dwellers.
``Look at the cities,’’ he said. ``Look at them. They're totally captive. Somebody supplies their heat, somebody supplies their light, their transportation, their water, their communications, food. Look how vulnerable they are. They'll obey to the letter, or they'll die, because they're not ready for what's going to happen.’’
From there, the theories filtered out to a variety of like-minded "Patriots" who then held their own militia meetings. Locally, it was a Monroe, WA, landscape contractor named Don Kehoe:
[Kehoe] suggests that ecosystem-management efforts, like the international plan proposed by local environmental groups for the North Cascades extending into Canada, are part of a government plan to drive people out of those areas altogether. The New World Order, Kehoe says, plans to install concentration camps in the Cascades to house and liquidate the masses needed to implement population control.
The flyer below was a popular handout at MOM meetings:
While its "documentation" books included such entries as the one below:
Now, only a couple of years back, progressives had a similar wave of paranoia hit them about concentration camps being built in the heartland by the Bush Administration. It didn't go very far, because it quickly became clear that there was no there there. No one was actually building any new camps; all that had happened was that a Halliburton subsidiary had been given a contract to build them in the event of an emergency, but the contracts had never been activated.
But the list of camps being touted by Glenn Beck's friends is identical to the list I examined in 2006, and here's what I reported then:
The [FEMA] concentration-camp claims have continued to enjoy a kind of half-life as well. You can still find them on the Web at sites like this one, which offers the standard number of "over 800 camps" that we now see floating around the current claims.
Note some of the camp descriptions:
Minidoka/Jerome Counties - WWII Japanese-American internment facility possibly under renovation. Clearwater National Forest - Near Lolo Pass - Just miles from the Montana state line near Moose Creek, this unmanned facility is reported to have a nearby airfield. Wilderness areas - Possible location. No data.
[The renovations at the Minidoka camp are strictly for purposes of making it into a national monument in commemoration of the internment. The Lolo Pass facility is a Forest Service work camp. As for the wilderness area sites, well ...]
Malmstrom AFB - UN aircraft groups stationed here, and possibly a detention facility.
[There is no detention facility at Malmstrom.]
Seattle/Tacoma - SeaTac Airport: fully operational federal transfer center
Okanogan County - Borders Canada and is a site for a massive concentration camp capable of holding hundreds of thousands of people for slave labor. This is probably one of the locations that will be used to hold hard core patriots who will be held captive for the rest of their lives.
Sand Point Naval Station - Seattle - FEMA detention center used actively during the 1999 WTO protests to classify prisoners.
Ft. Lewis / McChord AFB - near Tacoma - This is one of several sites that may be used to ship prisoners overseas for slave labor.
[The three known facilities listed here all have legitimate purposes as part of the law enforcement or military systems. But the "concentration camp" in Okanogan County is entirely fanciful and does not exist. Nor is there any known project to hold or transport people for slave labor.]
Anyway, you get the idea. None of the so-called detention centers were designed or constructed for that purpose. Certainly there was never any publicly acknowledged program to build them during the Clinton years.
As Jeffrey Feldman observes, the idea of FEMA being involved in concentration camps came gurgling up into popular media through X-Files scripts:
Rumors that FEMA has set up 'concentration camps' as part of a plot to take over America and the world flourished after the X-Files film, died down, and then resurfaced as the video site YouTube became more popular in 2006.
One video expounding on the X-Files theory of FEMA concentration camps, which was posted to YouTube in mid-2006, has been watched almost one million times. The theory Glenn Beck is pushing is a version of the X-Files plot adapted to support Beck's argument against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed recently by the Obama administration.
And now, thanks to Glenn Beck, they're receiving mainstream media play by Fox News people who say they "can't debunk" their existence.
How much longer before Beck just organizes his own militia group? Is that what the "912 Movement" is going to evolve into? Stay tuned ...