FEMA camps conspiracy theory

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The FEMA camps theory refers to the theory that the U.S Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is planning to imprison US citizens in concentration camps.[1][2][3] 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 FEMA camps conspiracy theory has existed since the 1980s but it has picked up greatly in popularity since the late 2000s.[4]

Arguments and variants

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 organisation’s real purpose. This 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.[5] The constitution will be suspended and FEMA will move US citizens into specially constructed camps, many of which have already been built.[6] The organisation has been described in this context as ‘the executive arm of the coming police state’.[7] Proponents of the theory often play into racial fears, asserting that FEMA will use ‘urban gangs’ as auxiliaries to ensure order.[8]

In many versions of the theory, ‘dissidents’ (typically defined as constitutionalists/patriots etc. rather than left-wingers) will merely be imprisoned.[9] Others have gone so far as to argue that they will be sent to these camps to be murdered.[10] Extreme versions of the theory state that plans are in place to imprison and kill apolitical American citizens in FEMA camps are part of a ‘population control’ plot.[11] FEMA conspiracies are often worked in larger conspiracy narratives about ushering in a ‘New World Order’, meaning a totalitarian global government.[12]

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.[13] In some cases, genuine internment camps have been pointed to but these have always been outside the United States.[14]

They have also cited a contingency plan (Rex 84) drafted in part by Oliver North calling for the suspension of the Constitution and the detainment of citizens in the event of a national crisis.[15] This was aimed at left-wing activists, not the Patriot types generally associated with FEMA theories.[16] This has been linked to a 1970 document by then-FEMA director Louis Guiffrida 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.[17]

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.[18] Similarly, the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands throughout US history has been pointed to.


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.[19] The prevalence of the conspiracy increased in line with the rise of the militia movement in the 1990s.[20] 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.[21] The theory’s inclusion in the plot of the 1998 X-Files movie showed its growing reach.[22]

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.[23] 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).[24] Emails from the magazine National Review have also promoted the theory.[25] Sitting Congresswoman Michele Bachmann alluded to the theory while in office,[26] as have other Republican Party politicians.[27]

Such has been the upsurge that FEMA itself has gone on record saying that it has no plans to detain citizens.[28] 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.’[29] The magazine Popular Mechanics has published debunks of the various claims of the conspiracy theorists.[30] The Southern Poverty Law Center also points out,

Ultimately, belief in FEMA detention camps requires one to conclude that nobody has ever escaped from one and told their story. It means believing that not one camp worker has breathed a word about his or her job. It requires assuming that not one of America’s 100 senators or 435 congressmen knows of the camps or, if they do, none is alarmed enough to call for hearings. It means believing that not a single ambitious journalist connected to a national media outlet has delved into this dastardly plan. And it requires one to assume that such innocuous things as the "FEMA Trucks" signs at the Maxwell AFB — in plain view of thousands of motorists — actually betray a terrible secret.[31]


  1. Larry Keller (2010). 'Fear of Fema' [1]. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 10/19/2015.
  2. Jon E. Lewis (2008). The Mammoth Book of Conspiracies. Robinson.
  3. Mark Potok (2014). 'National Review, in e-mail blasts, warns of FEMA Camps' [2]. Retrieved 10/19/2015.
  4. Keller (2010).
  5. D.J Mulloy 'Federal Emergency Management Agency' pp. 250-251, IN: Peter Knight (ed.) (2003) Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO
  6. Keller (2010). Mulloy (2013). p. 251.
  7. Keller (2010).
  8. Alexander Zaitchik (2010). ' 'Patriot Paranoia: A look at the top ten conspiracy theories' [3]. Retrieved: 10/19/2015.
  9. Zaitchik (2010).
  10. Lewis (2008).
  11. Lewis (2008).
  12. Daniel Pipes (1997). Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where it Comes From. Simon & Schuster. p. 8.
  13. Popular Mechanics (2008). 'The Evidence: Debunking FEMA Camp Myths'. [4]. Retrieved: 10/19/2015.
  14. Popular Mechanics (2008).
  15. Keller (2010).
  16. Political Research Associates. The Right-Wing Roots of Sheehan's "Secret Team" Theory . [5].
  17. Keller (2010).
  18. Keller (2010).
  19. Keller (2010).
  20. Keller (2010).
  21. Zaitchik (2010).
  22. Knight (2003). P. 251.
  23. Zaitchik (2010).
  24. Keller (2010).
  25. Potok (2014).
  26. John Amato (2009). 'Michele Bachmann warns of politically correct re-education camps for young people.' [6]. Retrieved: 10/19/2015.
  27. David Montgomery (2014). 'Candidate Hubbel wants to keep feds at bay.' [7]. Argus Leader. Retrieved: 10/19/2015.
  28. Keller (2010).
  29. Zaitchik (2010).
  30. Popular Mechanics (2008).
  31. Keller (2010).