Did you know that China is buying the state of Idaho? Or at least a huge chunk of the state of Idaho. For what purpose? Why, to build a 50 square mile self-sustaining industrial city south of Boise, as part of a mysterious joint Chinese/American plan called Project 60, of course.
According to the conspiracy theory that’s developed around this, the “self-sustaining city” is just one part of a “soft invasion” of the United States. China is also scheming to set up “special economic zones” in numerous other states, take control of Boise Airport and import hordes of nationals to serve as workers in their American factories – all part of their bloodless conquest of our nation and our freedom.
As we’ve seen time and time again, conspiracy theories like this usually have a small amount of truth, and are then driven from obscurity to hysteria by a small group of devotees. And hysteria it was – with the conspiracy exploding across the internet, leading to an official denial by the state and the resignation of the Idaho Department of Commerce Director. While it peaked a few years ago, it still rears its ugly head once in a while. So I wanted to see what it’s about, how it started and where it’s gone since then.
The first thing to establish is that there is a link between the state of Idaho and potential commercial ventures with China. In late 2007, Idaho Governor Butch Otter made his first visit to the country, meeting with officials at a number of companies in an effort to open up his state to foreign investments. Governor Otter’s outreach worked, and soon multiple Chinese firms were doing business in Idaho, most notability a polysilicon manufacturing plant built in Pocatello, Idaho, by the industrial company Hoku Materials.
The state’s efforts to bring in Chinese investment intensified in the wake of the 2008 recession, and played a key role in Governor Otter’s new economic development plan, which aspired to increase Idaho’s gross state product to $60 billion – the aforementioned “Project 60.”
But the biggest potential investment in Idaho would be unveiled in 2010, with an unusual proposal by China National Machinery Industry Corporation, also known as Sinomach, the third-largest contracting firm in China. They sought to build what the Idaho Statesman described in a December 2010 article as:
“[A] 10,000- to 30,000-acre technology zone for industry, retail centers and homes south of the Boise Airport. […] This ambitious, long-term proposal would start with a manufacturing and warehouse zone tied to the airport, and could signify a shift in the economic relationship between the two superpowers[.]”
What Sinomach proposed building in Idaho – as well as in several other states – would indeed be a fully-contained planned unit development located near Boise Airport. These kind of large-scale industrial zones are fairly common in China (the city of Shenzhen is one) but unknown in the heavily-zoned United States. It would NOT be an autonomous city-state answering to Beijing. As of now, the plan doesn’t seem to have gone forward and I can’t find any indication that Sinomach bought any land in Idaho or anywhere else.
Of course, a plan not going forward doesn’t mean people aren’t panicking about it. The conspiracy theory appears to have sprouted in June 2011, as Google Trends shows a spike from 0 to 100 searches for “China buying Idaho” in that month.
Narrowing the search, I tracked the conspiracy’s transformation from economics blurb to “OMG THE CHINESE ARE COMING!!!” to a May 31, 2011 blog post by one Bill Turner, of the Boise Conservative Examiner. Don’t let the name fool you, this isn’t a newspaper – it’s a blog linked to examiner.com, which, like many other clogosphere “news sources,” will let anyone post anything without the slightest vetting.
Boise Conservative Examiner doesn’t seem to be with us anymore, as the page hasn’t been updated in two years, while Turner’s original story, titled “Idaho to be first Chinese state,” is now a dead link. However, it’s still available as cut-and-paste content on a number of sites.
And it’s pretty much exactly the hit piece you’d expect, with Turner railing against Governor Otter and “notorious Marxist, B. Hussein Obama” [sic] for their plan to globalize America and surrender our sovereignty through “a federal program that grants permanent residency to foreign nationals.”
It alleges that “China” “has bought” 50 square miles of land south of Boise, and “is looking at buying Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania as well.” Sinomach is never mentioned by name, nor is the idea of a “self-sustaining city.” There’s really nothing concrete in the blog post at all, and certainly nothing backed up by any kind of citation.
So how did this rant, which is basically one step above a forwarded email, spike Google Trends and start a conspiracy that eventually demanded an official denial by the state of Idaho? Because of who picked it up. I narrowed the search for “China buys Idaho” down to June 2011 – the month of the Google Trends jump. The story that came up first in relevance, as well as one of the earliest chronologically, was a June 8th piece on the blog End of the American Dream, entitled “China Wants To Construct A 50 Square Mile Self-Sustaining City South Of Boise, Idaho.”
The author of the piece? Christian survivalist and economic collapse guru Michael Snyder. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he wrote the infamous Fukushima listicle “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima.” That piece, which I debunked last year, has caused innumerable headaches for ocean biologists, nuclear engineers and anyone with a vested interest in not flailing about in radiation panic.
It would seem Snyder had the same effect on the government of Idaho, because his piece, which is really just a better-researched and less ranty version of the original Bill Turner ramble, formed the core of virtually every subsequent blog post and conspiracy theory about the Sinomach land purchase. And there were a lot of them.
The conspiracy exploded, with innumerable sites proclaiming that Idaho (under President Obama’s direction, naturally) had sold out to the communists, with waves of undocumented immigrants coming here to take our jobs, plunder our economy and eventually subvert our sovereignty. Idaho would be just the first state to be overrun by Chinese “special economic zones” and ungoverned cities, all in exchange for relief of the crushing debt owed by the US.
Needless to say, very little of what Snyder wrote was true or presented in the proper context. Governor Otter denied the story up and down, state Commerce Director Don Dietrich resigned in part due to the furor (and possibly his poorly-worded quote “The Chinese are looking for a beachhead in the United States. Idaho is ready to give them one.”) and the Governor’s website issued an official FAQ on what the state was and wasn’t doing in regards to China. And absolutely nothing has happened in regards to Sinomach buying land south of Boise. Seriously, check Google Maps. There’s nothing there.
Despite that, new articles about this or similar schemes continue popping up everywhere from Infowars and Before It’s News to the New York Post. Conspiracy theories about China buying the US simply are here to stay – and they all started with a blog post about something that never happened going viral.
Incidentally, Governor Otter’s quest to bring Chinese investment to Idaho might have had good intentions, but it hasn’t worked out especially well. That polysilicon plant in Pocatello, built with Chinese money? It never opened, and was sold off at auction for pennies on the dollar after parent company Hoku Materials went bankrupt. It would seem even “self-sustaining cities” aren’t immune to economic bubbles.