How the Government Uses the Census to Control You

Lots of people have a general dislike of the government, but relatively fewer people believe the government would go out of its way to hurt its own citizens. The truth, though, is that the United States government has a history of obfuscation. These truths get labeled “conspiracy theories,” right up until the story finally breaks, and then they’re just known as “little known facts.” Here is one instance in which the truth finally came out, and it has to do with something you probably thought was harmless: the US Census.

Japanese Internment Camps

Hopefully, the existence of Japanese Internment Camps isn't really considered a little known fact. Everyone should know that during World War II, the US government “relocated” 110,000 people with Japanese ancestry, 62% of which were full-fledged American citizens. Everyone should know about this, because the government was brazen enough that they didn't even try to hide it. Heck, FDR wasn't technically doing anything illegal, since the Supreme Court itself ruled his orders were constitutional.

The Supreme Court held that the individual rights of Japanese Americans were nothing compared with the need to protect against the possibility of espionage. The government sweeping aside citizens’ rights in the name of national security? Does any of this sound familiar?

While this was an awful decision, it can be explained, at least partially, by the fact that the government rigged the results. There are indications that the government silenced a report that showed there was no evidence Japanese Americans were acting as spies.

Still, some Justices knew better. In his dissent, Frank Murphy called the act “legalization of racism.” He went on to say: “It is unattractive in any setting, but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States.” Too bad 6 other Justices thought pretty much spitting on the Constitution was a fine course of action because the country was at war.

How They Used the Census Bureau

But again, none of that – except critical evidence that might've changed the Supreme Court’s decision – was hidden from the general public. What was kept secret, however, and what had been dismissed as some whacky paranoia in the years following this atrocity, makes you lose even more faith in the government.

That secret is this: the United States Census Bureau supplied the addresses of the people who were taken from their homes. In the immediate aftermath of the internment, and for decades afterwards, it was more or less understood that the Census Bureau provided general data like where to find neighborhoods where a lot of Japanese Americans lived. That would've been bad enough.

But even though it’s illegal for the Census Bureau to release information that could be tied to specific people, many conspiracy theorists believed that is exactly what they did. This isn't some idea spun around in a centrifuge and then thrown at a wall to see what sticks. There really was something behind this theory, because guess what? In 2007, this “conspiracy theory” was confirmed as a verifiable fact.

A study of US Department of Commerce documents revealed that the Census provided the names and addresses of every Japanese American in the Washington, D.C. area. And that’s just the ones we know about. There was no evidence in those documents that the practice was done elsewhere, but it stands to reason that if they were willing to flagrantly break the law in our nation’s capital, why not do it everywhere else?

Should We Trust the Census Now?

And don’t believe for a second this was a special WWII circumstance. As the government proved once before, they are willing to essentially legalize racism when it suits them. And they will use times of crisis, as they did in World War II, to justify their unwarranted expansion.

In 2004, it came to light that the Census Bureau was feeding the Department of Homeland Security information about Arab Americans. The worst part about it is that they didn't even need to be secret about it: it isn't breaking the law. Why anyone thinks Homeland Security having a list of zip-code level breakdowns of Arab-Americans sorted by country of origin is any different than the lists they compiled during the Japanese internment is beyond me.

So the next time you’re asked to fill out a census form, you’re probably going to think twice before providing every answer. Hesitate as much as you want, though: the government aims to get your information from you one way or another. There’s a law that makes it illegal to turn in even a partially filled out form. Penalties for incorrectly filling out your form range from a $100 fine all the way up to one year in jail. Welcome to the land of the free: register your ethnicity or go to jail.
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Image Credit: Seth Anderson (via Flickr)

 Filed under: Government, Government, census, internment camps

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