The 'Conservative Case' for Internment Camps Gets Made

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

I’m not going to say I saw this coming, but now that it’s happened, I’m not sure I’m surprised. National Review’s Kevin Williamson, who lost his mind the last time this site criticized him, has now made the conservative case for internment camps by citing the need for the United States to copy New Zealand’s COVID re-entry protocol.

This comes in response to the Biden administration’s ban on travel from India. Naturally, though, that ban doesn’t include the tiny number of U.S. citizens and residents who need to come home from the COVID ravaged country. Williamson isn’t a fan of that exception.

I’m trying to imagine what the response would have been had Donald Trump actually done what Williamson suggests here and forcibly interned citizens and residents for two weeks after returning to the United States. I mean, we know how just his original travel ban was received with allegations of xenophobia thrown about. Regardless, such a move may be something New Zealanders are willing to accept given their distinct lack of care for individual freedom. But I’m thinking the cries of “fascist” would have been overwhelming had Trump gone that route. I also don’t think he ever had the power to do it anyway. As to whether Williamson himself would have been as accepting as he claims of such a move by the bad orange man, I have my doubts.

But if there was a prior justification for forcibly interning people during the height of the pandemic, there’s certainly not now. Between vaccine distribution and prior immunity from infection, we are now seeing caseloads drop precipitously. Further, how would it even be necessary when we have the ability to test people returning?

Again, though, I’m failing to see the Constitutional authority for the federal government to be able to lock you in a hotel room just because a virus exists. Part of the bargain of liberty is absorbing some inherent risk to protect the more important tenet of individual freedom. When FDR threw Americans of Japanese origin into internment camps during World War II, that was also justified as necessary to protect the broader public. Any kind of “greater good” justification that leads to violation of individual rights is dangerous, and inevitably, it will be abused in worse and worse ways.

That Joe Biden has not gone that route is actually a credit to his restraint. The president isn’t going to win any support from the right for something so basic, but it’s still something. To see National Review, a storied conservative publication, have someone decide to go that route is disappointing, not that I’m under any illusions they care what I think.