Contingency Plans

In a never-before-released thesis, Reagan’s FEMA director discussed the potential internment of millions of blacks in concentration camps.

National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons

Giuffrida’s views “really aren’t that offensive, despite what some of the articles on the web have said,” says the US Army War College spokeswoman, an officer of lieutenant colonel rank, unsolicited, over the phone.

I had asked for a copy of former FEMA director Louis Giuffrida’s 1970 thesis, “National Survival—Racial Imperative.” My request for the paper via Interlibrary Loan had been denied. I had called every number I could find to figure out why.

“[The thesis] is actually against racial prejudice,” the spokeswoman continued. “It just is trying to figure out, that when the system breaks down, like Ferguson, what the Army’s response should be.”

I hadn’t mentioned Ferguson.

After filing a FOIA request, I finally got my hands on the thesis. Giuffrida’s paper, written at the US Army War College, is a pseudophilosophical, historical analysis of the origins of racial prejudice that then offers a proposal: the establishment of concentration camps to imprison potentially millions of black Americans in the event of a revolutionary uprising in the United States.

The thesis, which has never been published or excerpted, speaks for itself:

In the past decade, the United States has had an epidemic of confrontations in which outbreaks of bitter racial violence have brought death and destruction and widened the gap between Negro and white. Inevitably, the rising tensions and mutual distrust have led to more violence and disruption.

For purposes of discussion let us assume that racial relations have degenerated to the point where armed militants embark on a massive violent attempt to immobilize the normal routine of a large city. The militants have occupied the city hall, taken over the mayor’s office, and are shooting at police attempting to oust them. An extremely militant Black Nationalist group has seized the main radio stations and has been calling on all sympathizers to arm themselves and ”join the people’s revolution.”

As soon as the violence starts, there are similar, though not necessarily preplanned, outbreaks of violence in other cities across the entire nation. The level of violence has quickly exceeded the control capacity of the various state and local agencies. Federal troops have been requested and are already committed. Fierce fighting is taking place in several major cities and intelligence reports indicate the disorder is likely to spread still further. Large numbers of United States troops are still committed overseas and cannot be readily recalled to the United States. To further complicate the problem, white vigilante groups have surfaced and are taking independent counteractions against blacks — without too much attempt to discriminate between militant and nonmilitant…

Faced by mounting death and destruction, as well as increasing demands that he do so, the President reluctantly declares a state of national emergency and puts the entire country on a war basis. The previously murmured suggestion that all Negroes be locked up now swells to a roar. It is like 1941 again, except that now it is the “Black Peril” rather than the “Yellow Peril.”

In the extremely unlikely event that the government were to order the evacuation and detention of all blacks from actual or potential trouble spots, how and by whom would the order be enforced? What are the yardsticks for collecting, evacuating, and interning either militant or pacifistic minority groups; or dissident, potentially disloyal elements; or law-abiding citizens whose only offense is accident of color? Where would the internees be kept? . . . What would be done with the blacks in the Armed Forces and in civil service and in Congress? The task would be far too large for the Justice Department; it would have to be greatly augmented by military forces, primarily from the United States Army.

The government has historically had the right to protect itself. A government faced with prolonged, simultaneous, apparently coordinated riots disrupting the entire nation to the point where the government feared its very existence was in jeopardy would take many actions which in calmer times would never be considered. “The authority to decide whether the exigency has arisen, belongs exclusively to the President and . . . his decision is conclusive upon all other persons.” (Martin v. Mott, US Supreme Court 1827).

Earlier in the thesis, in an attempt to support his claim that concentration camps may be necessary to quell unrest, Giuffrida quotes Martin Luther King, six days before the civil rights leader’s assassination.

I see a ghetto perhaps cordoned off into a concentration camp. I haven’t said there was a move afoot, just that it is a possibility. The more there are riots, the more repression will take place, and the more we face the danger of a right-wing take-over, and eventually a Fascist Society.

Giuffrida had a successful career. The year after he wrote his thesis, the colonel was selected by California Governor Ronald Reagan to head up the newly established California Specialized Training Institute. The purpose of the agency, according to Ken Lawrence’s 1985 pamphlet “The New State Repression,” was to conduct counter-insurgency training that couldn’t be performed at the federal level.

Giuffrida had hardly repudiated the views expressed in his thesis. Included in the text for the institute’s class “Civilian Violence and Terrorism: Officer Survival and Internal Security” was this startling line: “A white man cannot ever be black, red, or brown and so long as the white man remains superior in numbers he will be the repressor and the constant target of the mad dog.”

In 1981, Reagan, now president, appointed Giuffrida to helm the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (His thesis was included in the Senate confirmation packet.) Under Giuffrida, the FEMA took a turn toward “civil defense” and partnered with the National Security Council. Reagan asked for an increase in funds for civil defense in the 1982 budget, saying it was necessary in preparing for a potential nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Giuffrida said of the possibility of such a war, “It would be a terrible mess, but it wouldn’t be unmanageable.”

In Reagan’s FEMA, Giuffrida was surrounded by a phalanx of archconservatives who shared his views on the necessity of considering drastic measures to quell dissent. Another top official, John Brinkerhoff, authored a leaked memo outlining a plan for martial law in the United States.

Giuffrada’s views also weren’t dissimilar from those of National Security Council staffer Oliver North, who, the Miami Herald reported in 1987, devised a contingency plan for national crises that involved abandoning the constitution. As FEMA administrator, Giuffrida and North collaborated, and the agency supplied the staff for Ronald Reagan’s Emergency Management Preparedness Board, which featured North among its directors.

Giuffrida’s thesis is especially relevant in light of the police crackdown in Ferguson and the decision to employ repression instead of yielding to protestor demands. Both the incendiary 1970 paper and the state’s repressive response underscore the tendency of the ruling class, especially when met with resistance from below, to jettison democratic pretensions and embrace brute, often racist, force.