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Rage Grows in America: Anti‑Government Conspiracies

Conspiracy Theories Imagine Government Plots

With conspiracy talk-show host Alex Jones leading the way, one of the most disturbing trends in 2009 has been the resurrection and proliferation of some of the same anti-government conspiracy theories that so riled up domestic extremists in the 1990s. Such theories had been less popular in the 2000s, but Obama’s election gave anti-government conspiracy theorists a new focus for their efforts, a new light in which they could re-cast some of the old theories, and a willingness to come up with new conspiracies. More extreme than the “birther” conspiracy theory, these theories allege dark, violent designs on the part of the federal government.

Anti-Government Conspiracy Theories and Their Transmission

Though there are many conspiracy theories and numerous permutations, three are particularly entrenched among anti-government extremists:

  • Imposition of Martial Law. The federal government is plotting to declare martial law in the near future as a way to strip Americans of their freedoms and institute the New World Order. The government may utilize or even manufacture a crisis, such as the swine flu epidemic, in order to have an excuse for imposing martial law.
  • Gun Confiscation. The government is plotting to embark upon a massive program of gun confiscation, going door to door to take firearms away from American citizens so that they will be unable to resist the New World Order. Police, the military and even foreign troops may be used in the gun confiscation efforts.
  • One prevalent conspiracy theory is that FEMA is building concentration camps to house dissidents. This piece of artwork depicts a postcard sent from 'Camp FEMA'.
  • FEMA Concentration Camps. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has constructed hundreds of concentration camps in the United States, designed to hold “dissidents” and other American citizens following some imminent crackdown such as a declaration of martial law.

All three conspiracy theories were popular among anti-government extremists in the early and mid-1990s. However, in the 1990s, such theories spread through speeches at rallies and meetings, through books and videotapes sold at gun shows, through fax networks and computer bulletin boards, and through shortwave and satellite radio. In 2009, with a new focus involving Obama and his administration, conspiracy theories have spread at “viral” speed, posted to Internet message forums, social networking sites and video sites. Facebook and MySpace are full of messages and entire discussion forums fixating on alleged FEMA concentration camps in the United States. One Facebook group, for example, with the name “SHUT DOWN FEMA CAMPS,” reports that “there are over 600 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners.” This group alone has nearly a thousand members.

In recent months, the Twitter service has become yet an even quicker way to spread conspiracy theories. In July and August 2009, for example, “Cris2365” posted a tweet linking to a Webpage about alleged FEMA concentration camps. Meanwhile, “BrandyReid” tweeted about a Webpage claiming FEMA was preparing for martial law. “RoxyLuv823” used Twitter to warn people that “FEMA Concentration Camps are out there prepare yourself they are in the US and in use.” Another user, “Tatunsky,” tweeted to his friends about using Google Earth to track FEMA concentration camps in the U.S. Countless other Twitter users sent similar messages during the same period.

As these conspiracy theories become more popular, they are starting to cross over from the fringes into more “mainstream” venues. On August 14, 2009, for example, right-wing radio talk show host Michael Savage, whose listeners are estimated to number over eight million, proclaimed on his Savage Nation show that the government would declare martial law. “Martial law,” he announced, “will be declared in this country over a pretext. I think the likelihood is very high that the gang that has taken over this country will declare…a pretext…the equivalent of the Reichstag fire [an event that helped the Nazis take over the German government]…to put in a form of martial law.”

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