Madison, Georgia. Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and “conspiracy expert” Alex Jones creep through the woods and hunker down beside a tree. Jones points through underbrush. Ventura leans forward, peers at something, and says in his ominous rumbling baritone, “What in the hell is this?”
The camera shifts to stacks of oblong black plastic containers. “Coffins,” Jones replies — each large enough to hold three or four bodies. Should the government decide to unleash a bioweapon to orchestrate a takeover of America, Jones explains, there are plenty of containers right here to dispose of the bodies. Ventura displays one of his signature glares — the kind he no doubt used to ice opponents while wrestling as “The Body” years ago — and points to nearby train tracks. Just in case the viewer doesn’t immediately grasp why this is suspicious, none-too-subtle images of World War II-era trains loaded with Jews on their way to Nazi concentration camps flash on the screen.
Welcome to Jesse Ventura's “Conspiracy Theory,” which airs on Turner Broadcasting System’s cable network, TruTV. In this Nov. 12 episode, entitled “Police State,” Ventura works to prove the existence of so-called FEMA camps – “concentration camps” to be used as part of a U.S. government plot to round up and imprison millions of Americans so that unnamed “elites” can establish a dictatorship.
Scary, isn’t it? Ventura's still-formidable frame and rumbling voice, backed by dramatic, ominous music, provide a sense of frightful urgency. How did we miss this? What can we do?
Before you panic, know that there are, shall we say, issues with Ventura's “evidence.”
Let's go back to Madison. What Jones (who is never identified as the conspiracy-obsessed radio talk-show host and webmaster of Infowars.com and PrisonPlanet.com) calls coffins are actually grave liners designed to protect buried coffins from the weight of the settling soil above – a standard element of American burials. The lot Ventura and Jones approached as if on a special ops mission is owned by Covington, Ga.-based Vantage Products Corp. Michael Lacey, Vantage’s vice president of operations, told Popular Mechanics — which has debunked a number of right-wing conspiracy theories, including the widespread fairy tale about Federal Emergency Management Agency concentration camps — that the roughly 50,000 liners stored in Madison is “nowhere near the quantity they talk about on the Internet.”
Ventura and Jones go on to allege that the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a prison-like facility in Taylor, Texas, is really a planned FEMA incarceration center. Their evidence? Facility personnel wouldn’t let them in, and there is – oh, my – playground equipment visible through the chain-link fence. Slides and jungle jims at a prison? Just in case the viewer doesn’t immediately grasp why this is suspicious, a scene of Japanese-Americans incarcerated during World War II flashes on the screen.
In fact, T. Don Hutto is a former medium-security prison that has operated since 2006 as a detention center for undocumented immigrants. It is owned and managed by the Corrections Corporation of America and funded through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office — which surely explains why Ventura and Jones couldn’t just walk through the front door. A lawsuit compelled the facility to install playground equipment for the children of detainees.
Ventura then offers U.S. House Bill 645 as legislative “proof” that the government is preparing to build more dreaded FEMA camps. Conspiracy hounds claim H.R. 645, the “National Emergency Centers Establishment Act,” would authorize the government to intern Americans.
Would it? Ventura visits Capitol Hill and confronts H.R. 645 co-sponsor Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who claims to have no knowledge of the bill’s “FEMA directives.” Evidence of a clueless politician taking orders from “elites?” Actually, it was the only answer Cohen could give — because there aren’t any FEMA directives in the bill.
H.R. 645 calls for creation of at least a half-dozen national emergency centers on military installations. Ventura never talks to — or mentions — H.R. 645’s primary sponsor, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who told Hatewatch that the bill’s purpose “is to improve humanitarian relief to individuals and families displaced by a hurricane or other natural disaster. Hastings disavows “the paranoia of self-aggrandizing conspiracy theorists.” This legislation, he says, “contains absolutely no authority for the federal government to forcibly remove people from their homes in any situation.”
Somewhat like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, Ventura manages to tap into one real controversy during the program: fusion centers. Seventy-two of these joint federal-state-municipal enterprises have been created since 9/11 to coordinate the sharing of national security-related information among various law enforcement agencies and the military. The ACLU is among several mainstream organizations that have expressed concerns about the centers’ ability to probe deep into the lives of civilians.
What Ventura and TruTV call “proof” amounts to little more than recycled and utterly groundless conspiracy theories. He relies on dubious “experts” — actually, fellow conspiracy peddlers whose affiliations are never clearly identified — and utterly ignores real authorities who could easily debunk the claims.
TruTV? In this case, hardly.