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Facebook posts
stated on January 19, 2022 in a post:
“There (are) over 800 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners. They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA.”
true pants-fire
Monique Curet
By Monique Curet January 20, 2022

Claim of FEMA ‘prison camps’ is part of long-running, thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory

If Your Time is short

A FEMA spokesperson said the claim is false.

There is no evidence to support the claim, and there are many reports that debunk false claims about FEMA camps.

Claims about FEMA camps are part of a longstanding conspiracy theory that picked up steam during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A nearly 8,000-word post circulating on social media claiming the U.S. government has hundreds of prison camps at the ready includes a hodgepodge of debunked conspiracy theories, some that are decades old.

"There (are) over 800 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners," the Jan. 19 post on Facebook says. "They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)."

The claim continues, saying the camps "all have railroad facilities as well as roads leading to and from the detention facilities. Many also have an airport nearby. The majority of the camps can house a population of 20,000 prisoners."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The claim is "absolutely false," a FEMA spokesperson told PolitiFact.

We found no evidence, in media or government reports or anywhere else, to corroborate the claim. However, there are many reports that debunk false claims about FEMA camps.

Information cited in the post as purported proof — including specific executive orders and alleged locations of camps — is misleading or false.

None of the concepts in the claim are new; a post with nearly identical opening paragraphs was shared on a Yahoo message board in September 2000. The baseless idea that the U.S. government might try to imprison its citizens in FEMA-run concentration camps has a long history, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought it renewed attention.

"Among certain right-wing conspiracy theorist circles, notably the militia movement, fears of government-imposed martial law, FEMA camps, gun confiscation, and depopulation have been prevalent for decades," according to a 2020 report from the Anti-Defamation League. "Many of these concerns have been updated and applied to the coronavirus, and they are spreading so rampantly that the Department of Defense and local law enforcement agencies have had to address them."

PolitiFact also has debunked claims about FEMA prison camps or detention centers related to COVID-19.

The Facebook post says FEMA is associated with specific executive orders which would allow the agency to "suspend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," and lists the numbers of 15 executive orders.

PolitiFact reported in 2014 on 14 of the same executive orders, which "allegedly usurp traditional executive powers, including things like seizing control of the media, railroads, waterways and correctional institutions." In reality, though, those order numbers matched up with executive orders on either entirely different topics or orders that were much more limited in scope.

The executive orders in question originated in 1962, Popular Mechanics reported, when the U.S. was involved in conflicts in both Cuba and Vietnam and the prospect of a Cold War with the Soviet Union loomed. So "President John F. Kennedy signed a series of executive orders that outlined the basic framework for agency responsibilities during a national emergency."

And rather than allowing the suspension of citizens’ rights, "safeguards were written into the current framework of responsibilities, declaring that any emergency preparation or actions ‘shall be consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States,’" according to the 2014 article in Popular Mechanics.

Almost all of the executive orders have since been revoked.

The Facebook post also includes details about where the purported 800 prison camps are located, including Fort Chaffee in Arkansas and Camp Grayling in Michigan. But evidence does not corroborate those claims.

For example, the post says that Fort Chaffee "has new runway for aircraft, new camp facility with cap of 40,000 prisoners." That same claim was debunked in a 2010 report called "Fear of FEMA" from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and there’s no evidence that anything has changed since.

Our ruling

A Facebook post says, "There (are) over 800 prison camps in the United States, all fully operational and ready to receive prisoners. They are all staffed and even surrounded by full-time guards, but they are all empty. These camps are to be operated by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)."

A FEMA spokesperson said the claim is false. There is no evidence, such as media or government reports, to support the claim. Meanwhile, there are many reports that debunk false claims about FEMA camps.

Information cited in the claim as purported proof — including specific executive orders and alleged locations of camps — is misleading or false.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire! 

Our Sources

Anti-Defamation League, "Coronavirus: Prominent Conspiracies," April 20, 2020

Email interview, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesperson, Jan. 20, 2022

Facebook post, Jan. 19, 2022

Gen, "Why Conspiracy Theorists Think FEMA Is Building Camps to Imprison Americans," July 21, 2020

National Archives,"1962 Executive Orders Disposition Tables," accessed Jan. 20, 2022

PolitiFact, "CDC and FEMA aren’t separating students and parents in Ohio because of COVID-19," Sept. 19, 2020

PolitiFact, "Chain email claims Barack Obama has signed 1,000 executive orders to grab power from Congress," Feb. 6, 2014

Popular Mechanics, "The Evidence: Debunking FEMA Camp Myths," Dec. 26, 2014

Southern Poverty Law Center, "Fear of FEMA," March 2, 2010

Yahoo Groups, "Open Your ThirdEye List, conversations: U.S. concentration camps," Sept. 27, 2000

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Claim of FEMA ‘prison camps’ is part of long-running, thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory

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