It’s summer, 2018. America is in the grip of a debate over the Trump administration’s unilateral policy of separating the children of asylum-seeking families trying to get into the US. As of today, there are about 2,000 children being held in various internment facilities on the southern border – a number that could be as high as 30,000 by the end of August.
This is an issue being covered by a myriad of excellent writers, I’ll leave you to find their takes on it.
But there’s a connection to today’s child separation and a conspiracy theory from a few years ago that I do feel is worth exploring – the conspiracy that closed Walmarts are being turned into internment camps.
In 2015, America was engaged in debate that was far less gut-wrenching and far more absurd than the current one: were the armed forces of the United States practicing a takeover of the country, purging of dissenters, and internment of enemies?
If your mind can reach back to a time when the news wasn’t dominated by Donald Trump and the Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight, you might remember Jade Helm 15. It was a military exercise planned to test how the military would operate in multiple environments in a country going through a military takeover.
And it was catnip to conspiracy theorists, who declared that the government was purging enemies of the Obama agenda. They spoke of missile batteries and “death domes” being set up, of Walmart stores being closed (which was true, as five Walmarts closed around the time of Jade Helm, due to what the chain said were repairs to their plumbing systems) and turned into FEMA concentration camps or staging areas for Chinese troops, and of rural gun owners on the verge of being mass executed.
But like every other military exercise held on American soil, Jade Helm passed without incident. Even those Walmart stores that closed in the same area as Jade Helm exercises – they quietly re-opened a few months after Jade Helm.
The paranoia over Jade Helm then and the gut-wrenching separation of families now don’t seem to have much in common. But they do share at least one element – closed Walmart stores.
One of the centers where migrant children are being held, Casa Padre in Brownsville, is a Walmart converted from a superstore into the largest facility of its type in the US. Casa Padre is one of 29 facilities in three border states run by nonprofit Southwest Key Programs.
But it looks like the only one built in a converted Walmart. And it’s here that the conspiracy theorists who pushed Jade Helm have circled around to pat themselves on the back that their allegations came true.
“Mainstream Media Confirms Conspiracy Theory That Walmart Stores Are Being Turned into Prison Camps” screams the headline of a piece on Activist Post, one of the most noxious fake news sites on the net. It reads, in part:
“When citizens began to ask questions about why Walmart stores were suddenly closing in in southern states in 2015, the mainstream media insisted that the closures were due to plumbing problems and that any suggestion of government involvement was a crazy conspiracy theory. Three years later, the MSM is finally admitting that several of those Walmart stores were converted into detention centers, which now house immigrant children who have been separated from their parents.
And it wasn’t just cranks making the connection. An editorial in the Houston Chronicle references the conspiracy, declaring,
We laughed when Jade Helm conspiracy theorists speculated the federal government planned to use tunnels beneath abandoned Walmart stores as detention centers for political dissidents. Now it turns out the feds are stashing children in an abandoned Walmart in Brownsville, and they won’t let a member of Congress look inside.
So does the closed Walmart in Brownsville serve as proof that the conspiracy theorists were right all along?
Without a full list of facilities, it’s impossible to know for sure if there are more converted Walmarts being used by Southwest Key or other organizations for housing migrant children.
But it should be noted that the Walmart in Brownsville wasn’t one that closed during Jade Helm. It closed in early 2016, as the company streamlined its holdings by shuttering almost 270 stores of various sizes.
Walmart stores, or the closure thereof, have been fodder for conservative rumors for years, and that wave of Walmart closures was no different. Garbage conspiracy site Investment Watch Blog declared that the “real” reason for the closures was to create a place to house dissidents after an EMP leads to martial law.
And further store closures in 2017 and 2018 fueled rumors of massive tunnels being built under the closed stores for the easy movement of troops and supplies, or for the housing of massive numbers of prisoners. There were even reports of massive “booms” caused by explosions under the ground.
Of course, there is no confirmation of any such tunnels under any Walmarts. Nor is there any credible evidence that closed stores are being turned into internment camps en masse. A few have been converted to e-commerce fulfillment sites. Most others stand empty, relics of suburban blight and corporate downsizing.
In the end, none of the Walmart/FEMA camp conspiracy theory matches what’s actually happening at Casa Padre. That facility likely was purchased because it’s cheap, big, and near the border. Housing migrants or prisoners in other closed Walmarts around the country makes little logistical sense, due to the need for transportation and security.
It would make more sense for migrant housing to be located near the border, no matter the size. And sure enough, Southwest Key has leased at least one more facility since the child separation controversy began – a small derelict warehouse in Houston.
There is no discernible connection between the current crisis and Jade Helm, and quite likely none between the spate of Walmart closures, either.
Which leaves us with only one real conspiracy: the government conspiring to take screaming children away from terrified parents, to be shipped off to wherever can be provided cheaply.
That’s what we should all be spending our energy on.