June 23, 2018 9:00 am

Viral conspiracy theory links Walmart to U.S. border child detention

Walmart's social media people were kept busy this week fending off a conspiracy theory that blamed the company for the mass incarceration of children.

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Here’s what we know:

U.S. authorities have repurposed a former Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, to incarcerate immigration detainees, many of them children. Last week, U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley tried to see inside the facility but was rebuffed.

Here’s what that looked like:

The cavernous space holds over 1,500 boys, many forcibly separated from a parent at the southern U.S. border. (Where are the equivalent number of girls? It’s less clear.)

As we saw this month, the facility keeps its young inmates in wire cages, or in enclosures that are the furthest thing from cages, depending on your point of view. It also comes complete with a mural of a satisfied-looking U.S. President Donald Trump.

WATCH: U.S. reveals living conditions inside former Walmart now housing 1,500 child migrants in Texas.

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READ MORE: The U.S. has migrant boys separated from their parents living at a former Walmart

Here’s what isn’t going on, as far as we can tell:

The Walmart connection revived a rich but obscure vein of conspiracy narrative left over from the more humid opponents of the Obama administration, which held that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was planning to intern people in closed Walmarts. When several Walmarts closed in 2015, Snopes explains, it was taken as a sign that they were being emptied only to be filled with internees. (Tunnels were involved.)

Paul Joseph Watson, a one-time protege of Alex Jones, published three Youtube videos in this period taking this line, which together got about 750,000 views.

The Obama administration came and went without declaring martial law even once, and it’s ironic that when a group of alt-right conspiracy theorists finally got to point to a Walmart that has actually been turned into a mass detention facility, it was under a Trump administration.

This video, which draws on Obama-era memes, has reached 60,000 views on YouTube:

“They formed a marriage with Homeland Security, and yet again we have conspiracy theorists proven right,” argued YouTube conspiracy theorist Lisa Haven. “Walmart is in bed with Homeland Security.”

The facility is sinister, but it has nothing at all to do with Walmart, which sold the building in late 2016.

The location was underperforming when a decision was made to close it, Walmart said recently.

“When the property was sold to a developer more than a year ago, we did not know it would be used for what’s happening today. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is outrageous,” the company said in a statement.

Ironically, the New York Times reports Walmart gave some thought to how the next owner’s use of the building might make them look bad. Their agreement with the developer tried to stop the building being turned into a strip club, for example, or having slot machines.

However, it apparently never occurred to the company to try to prevent it from being used for the dystopian mass incarceration of children, and Walmart’s social media people found themselves busy.

Whatever other corporate sins can be laid at Walmart’s door, it’s hard to see why this is one of them.

h/t (the Associated Press)

(Walmart has perhaps made a rod for its own back in this department: their book listings offer hundreds of titles under ‘Conspiracy Theories‘.)

READ MORE: Jeff Sessions cites Bible to defend separating immigrant children from parents

In brief:

  • Will return next week.

READ MORE: Donald Trump calls for ‘nuclear option’ to stop flow of illegal immigrants

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