FEMA Camps, Fusion Centers, and Emergency Powers

November 20th, 2012

FDR cited emergency powers when he committed a human rights atrocity by ordering Japanese Americans into detention camps

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA’s failures were on public display. Displaced residents found themselves in makeshift facilities with accommodations that were so uncomfortable as to be compared to a prison camp. Hurricane evacuees huddled without heat and were required to follow such overbearing rules that even bathroom trips required flashing an ID card.

While FEMA tends to get bad reviews during weather crises, primarily due to its inefficient, clumsy national organizational structure, emergency powers in general can lead to much more serious hazards than a bad experience at a hurricane refugee camp. When governments claim emergency powers, they typically do so by suspending due process and the recognition of certain fundamental human rights. In national emergencies such as riots, economic crises that disrupt the supply chain, and war, citizens worldwide face serious risks at the hands of their own governments.

What’s All the Fuss About FEMA Camps?

Many civil liberties activists worry that pre-fabricated FEMA camps will be turned into some type of concentration camp in the future. Though this is a reasonable worry, as congressmen often put in bills which call for the development of detention camps on US soil, such initiatives never gain serious traction and are only passed into law when they are earmarked to larger omnibus bills that no one reads. It’s one thing for some language to technically pass into law, but for it to reach a level of enforcement would require some dramatic circumstances.

Most regional FEMA facilities are rented out on an ongoing basis to various contractors. To convert one into a concentration camp would require serious effort and planning, something the organization is not known-for. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that it could happen if there were a state of emergency declared due to civil unrest, but it wouldn’t happen quickly, secretly, or quietly. Contractors would have to be kicked out of facilities. Military equipment would have to be delivered on-site.

Fusion Centers Combine Government Power from Different Levels in Unlawful Ways

The Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers on the other hand are a more serious, immediate concern. These unconstitutional facilities seek to combine the information collection and, to some extent, law enforcement authority between local, state, and federal officers. The American system does not grant federal authorities the power to override state and local criminal laws, and information sharing between branches, especially about citizens who are not suspected of a crime, violates the Bill of Rights.

Since the federal government now claims the right to collect emails, text messages, and other data in the aggregate from anyone and everyone, fusion centers open this data up to law enforcers at every level. In states like Washington and Colorado where marijuana has been legalized, fusion centers could be used to violate the will of voters by allowing local officers to provide info on citizens to federal agents.

In addition to being unlawful, fusion centers are inefficient. Sheriffs are typically the supreme law enforcement officer in most counties under the law. This is important, because sheriffs are elected by the people, thus providing accountability. Rather than building permanent federal fusion centers, a local sheriff should simply take over all law enforcement assets during a crisis, including those from the state and federal level, and instruct them using his or her superior understanding of the local area. The US system was designed this way in response to the corruption of previous governments as an effort to avoid another “Sheriff of Nottingham” situation. By appointing federal officers to take over this authority from sheriffs, the federal government is overriding an important part of the American democratic process.

Realistically, we’re not likely to ever see the type of coup where US citizens are rounded up in the middle of the night at random and put in concentration camps. However, in a crisis, crazy things often happen. During Katrina, gun confiscation did occur in violation of the law. If there were an economic crisis or civil war, detention centers might be set up for political dissidents. During World War 2, FDR tragically ordered German and Japanese Americans into detention camps.

Though some alarmists over-sell the hype by erroneously claiming that there is some type of massive concentration camp scheme being purposefully put forward by mainstream government officials of all stripes, one thing is true: some psychopath working for the government probably is, and, in an emergency, sometimes that type of person is left in charge of important matters that affect civil liberties without anyone double-checking his or her work.

We must always remain vigilant against any increase to government power, especially during a crisis. Most every coup in recent world history first started when the nation’s leader declared a state of emergency, thus suspending said country’s constitution.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.