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"U.S. KEEPS DETENTION CAMPS READY" by Ammon Hennacy - Catholic Worker odds & ends
September 8th, 2007
05:57 am


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This is the heading in the NEW YORK TIMES of December 26, 1955 describing the camps ready for subversives when a "national emergency" arises. They are located at Allenwood, Pennsylvania, near the regular Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary; Avon Park, Florida, 40 miles north of Lake Okeechobee, formerly a Federal prison camp; El Reno, Oklahoma, formerly inhabited by prisoners of war from Rommel's Afrika Corps; Tule Lake, California, near the Oregon border, formerly occupied by 20, 000 Japanese in the hysteria of World War II; Wickenburg, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix, formerly a glider school of the Air Force, and Florence, Arizona, formerly a prisoner of war camp for 9,000 Italians, situated between Phoenix and Tucson.

While there is a space in these camps for only 5,000 at present, they could hold scores of thousands if the "emergency" became frightful enough to the politicians in Washington. These camps were authorized under the McCarren Internal Security Act of 1950 and in 1951 one and a half million dollars was appropriated to fix up these six camps. Elminer Bendiner in the NATIONAL GUARDIAN discusses these concentration camps also stating that six liberal senators who had fought McCarren were somehow maneuvered into settling on these camps as the lesser of two evils. These senators were: Kilgore of West Virginia, Lehman of New York, Kefauver of Tennessee, Graham of North Carolina, Douglas of Illinois and Humphrey of Minnesota.

Mr Huston, who wrote the NEW YORK TIMES article visited the camps at Florence, Wickenburg and El Reno, describing the latter as containing twenty-nine buildings, each about 100 feet long with three iron stoves in the middle to provide heat. This is on the old Fort Reno reservation of 8,000 acres across from the El Reno Federal prison. This is a country of cold winds in winter and hot winds in summer. I hiked trough there in December, 1945.

The Florence camp is about a mile away from the State prison in Arizona. I saw its gray buildings when I came back from picking cotton in Eloy. One hundred and fifty federal prisoners now live there. They have renovated the buildings which now number twenty-six, capable of holding 3,000 subversives. Strange to say, this is the only air-conditioned prison of all the three score federal prisons in the United States. It has a chapel, a television room, a library and well equipped hospital as well. Sewage disposal is ready to serve 20,000 people. About eighty acres are cultivated and they produce their own pork. But do not let this fine atmosphere make you feel happy, for if you had a notion to escape there are the bloodhounds of the state prison handy, and in every direction the lonesome desert where it is very easy to get lost. In the spring for forty miles around the desert flowers bloom. Mother Bloor hiked across the United States when she was sixty-five and describes this Florence area as the most beautiful in the United States.

I have been in Wickenburg many times but did not notice the camp there. Mr. Huston says it would house about 800 and because of its more substantial buildings, Venetian blinds etc. it would be more suitable for women prisoners. The Wickenburg climate is delightful when Tucson and Phoenix roast in the summer and it is not too cold in the winter. Dude ranches abound and here we see the "western atmosphere" advertised in the magazines.

It is anybody's guess as to who will inhabit these camps. The FBI does not tell us in advance what they are going to do, and the brother of Secretary Dulles, who runs the American spy system, is even more secretive. It is certain that all those left of center can be accused of any form of "guilt by association." Mr. Huston says: :After Pearl Harbor, for instance, a great many Japanese were rounded up and interned....It was later acknowledged that not all of them were disloyal or a menace to national security. Undoubtedly, objections would arise over the detention of certain individuals if another national emergency arose. The government's employee security program has been criticized as unjust to hundreds who are not bona fide security risks. In the climate of a national emergency hundreds, perhaps thousands could be sequestered in security camps who were not actual, or even potential, spies or saboteurs." ----from the February, 1956 issue of THE CATHOLIC WORKER

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