Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 1, 2012

Fact Check: Did FEMA create youth army?

BY BEN FINLEY
FactCheck.org

DHS — Q: Did the Department of Homeland Security create a "standing army of government youth" known as FEMA Corps?

A: No. FEMA Corps is a civilian operation within AmeriCorps, a federal community service program. FEMA Corps prepares and responds to disasters. Its members, ages 18 to 24, carry no weapons.

FULL QUESTION

Tell me this is not true.

Homeland Security Graduates First Corps Of Obama's Brown Shirts — Homeland Youth

The federal government calls them FEMA Corps. But they conjure up memories of the Hitler Youth of 1930's Germany. Regardless of their name, the Dept of Homeland Security has just graduated its first class of 231 Homeland Youth. Kids, aged 18-24 and recruited from the President's AmeriCorp volunteers, they represent the first wave of DHS's youth corps, designed specifically to create a full-time, paid, standing army of FEMA Youth across the country.

FULL ANSWER

A few readers sent us this email, which dresses up conspiracy theories with unrelated photographs and selected snippets from a government press release.

The gist of the email is that the federal government is stockpiling bullets, instituting martial law and arming youths in President Barack Obama's army of "Brown Shirts" — none of which is true.

The email attributes the source of the information to an article on www.itmakessenseblog.com. The site's "We Believe" page claims that "Left wing progressives have infiltrated both the Democrat and Republican Party." It also says: "modern liberalism and progressivism may still both support many of the same Socialistic, Communistic or Maoist policies."

The email's link to the article is broken. And the site no longer carries the article. But the blog has published other pieces that similarly warn of Obama's "'brown shirt' brigades" or "civilian national security force." This email is the most recent incarnation of a claim we debunked in 2008 and 2010. The conspiracy theory stems from a 2008 speech that then-candidate Obama gave in Colorado. He talked about building up "a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as our military force.

But the doomsayers leave out the context: Obama was proposing strengthening civilian programs such as the State Department's foreign service, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Not surprisingly, this latest claim describes FEMA Corps, a new unit of AmeriCorps, as an "army."

'Army of Government Youth?'

The email says the Department of Homeland Security created a "paid, full time, standing army of government youth." And the email quotes — correctly — from a DHS press release announcing FEMA Corps' first graduating class. But that's about all the email gets right.

It contains a photo of young persons dressed in blue uniforms and holding air-soft guns, replicas that fire plastic pellets and are identifiable by their federally required orange tips. That's the first sign this is no "standing army." And the photo comes not fromas the email claims — but from a 2009 New York Times article. The story is about a law enforcement education program that is affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America and has nothing to do with FEMA Corps.

The Law Enforcement Exploring program teaches crime-fighting skills to persons between the ages of 14 and 20 who are considering a career in law enforcement. The Times profiled a southern California chapter that partnered with U.S. Border Patrol and local police. They simulated a raid on a marijuana field, which the newspaper photographed.

FEMA Corps, on the other hand, is a civilian operation for persons between the ages of 18 and 24. It is a unit within AmeriCorps, a community service program.

FEMA Corps, which will grow to 1,600 members, is solely devoted to preparing for and responding to disasters. Corps members work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which dispatches them to disaster areas. They recently helped Hurricane Sandy victims in Long Beach, N.Y., registering them for federal assistance.

They do not carry guns — much less travel in armored fighting vehicles. In fact, the AmeriCorps handbook, which applies to FEMA Corps, prohibits members from possessing firearms or any other weapon.

The email, nonetheless, attempts to connect FEMA Corps to an overblown claim about the government's recent ammunition purchases.

Bullet Baloney

The email cites a "drastic spike" in the Department of Homeland Security's bullet purchases and asks: "What is the US federal government preparing for?" The email also claims that "federal management agencies are looking more and more like a military army every day."

DHS has indeed ordered hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition. But there is less here than meets the eye. And that's according to the National Rifle Association and the office of Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia.

The Department of Homeland Security recently contracted to buy up to 450 million rounds over the next five years. But DHS was making a first-time bulk order for all of its law enforcement agencies to save money. Those agencies include the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement, among many others.

The NRA describes the assertion as "incendiary."

It says the suggestion that the Obama administration is "preparing for a war with the American people" displays "a lack of understanding of the law enforcement functions carried about by officers in small federal agencies."

The NRA, which is no fan of the Democratic president, concludes that "there is no need to invent additional threats to our rights."

'Martial Law' Malarkey

The email also links FEMA Corps to the false claim that Obama issued executive orders that institute martial law and give unchecked powers to FEMA.

As we've written before, Obama's orders do no such thing.

He issued one executive order that exercised his office's power to prepare the nation for an emergency.

Since the Korean War, Congress has granted the president the authority to make sure national resources — such as the food supply and various industries — will be available to meet national security needs in times of war and other emergencies.

That power is granted under the Defense Production Act, a law that dates to 1950 and must be reauthorized by Congress every few years. (The act expires in 2014.)

Like presidents before him, Obama issued an order updating the resources covered under that act while delegating authority over those resources to various federal departments and agencies.

For example, the order authorizes the secretaries of Defense and the Interior "to encourage the exploration, development, and mining of strategic and critical materials and other materials."

The order doesn't institute martial law. It doesn't even mention FEMA.