Boston Globe
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Thank heavens for the Internet; it’s put the surprise back in October Surprise.
Here is the latest big-picture conspiracy theory, which has been gathering strength on the blogosphere the way a hurricane feeds on Caribbean waters: It is widely believed, both online and, increasingly, offline, that the Bush administration intends to declare martial law and postpone next month’s elections. To prevent Barack Obama’s inevitable ascension to the Oval Office, obviously.
This theory/rumor/delusion dates back almost a year and a half, with the appearance on the White House website of National Security Presidential Directive 51, which outlined a policy for “continuity of government” in the event of a national emergency. Such emergency is defined as “any incident . . . that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the US population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel says the new directive supplants a Cold War-era emergency memorandum that is no longer valid in the post-9/11 world, with the country at risk of a “no-notice terrorist attack.” But on websites with names such as  justanothercoverup.com and  abovetopsecret.com, the public document – often described as “secret” – was read quite differently. “FEMA Official States Bush Is Planning to Implement Martial Law,” is a headline from justanothercoverup. “Pelosi Declared Martial Law Last Night,” was a September headline from abovetopsecret.
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Like a much-awaited Messiah (I am channeling the famous sociological text “When Prophecy Fails”), the date of the martial law takeover keeps moving forward. This spring it was to coincide with the bombing of Iran, this summer with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ike. In the minds of conspiracy theorists, the current economic crisis seems like a propitious moment for the suspension of the November election.
The martial law paranoia has an engaging adjunct: the “FEMA coffins” story. If you Google those words, you will find pictures, videos, and reams of text explaining that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has stockpiled 30,000 – or is it 50,000? – coffins (or are they coffin liners? or . . . boxes?) in anticipation of a vast civil disturbance, presumably triggered by the imposition of martial law. “We do not have FEMA coffins,” says spokeswoman Debbie Wing.