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Tule Lake Segregation Center was a World War Two incarceration camp where conflicts around racialized "national security," citizenship, and justice boiled over into violence.

Tule Lake War Relocation Center, near the California-Oregon border, began as one of the ten camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated after being excluded from the West Coast during World War Two. The camp had already been the site of labor strikes and unrest when the government embarked on a disastrous program called “registration.” Incarcerees were forced to fill out an “Application for Leave Clearance” which included two questions with devastating consequences:

Question #27:
"Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?"

Question #28:
"Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?"

A 'disloyal' being conveyed to Tule Lake Segregation Center

Any response other than “yes-yes” to those questions got the registrant classified as a “disloyal.” The government’s next program was “segregation,” transferring all the “disloyals” to one camp, now named Tule Lake Segregation Center.

By late 1944, Tule Lake swelled to more than 18,000 incarcerees, making it the largest camp population administered by the War Relocation Authority. The resistance which had simmered among the incarcerees erupted into a mass demonstration which so terrified the WRA administration that they called on the U.S. Army to impose martial law.

As headlines screamed of rioting “Japs,” 1200 soldiers and eight tanks entered the camp to terrorize the population. Dozens of men began to disappear into a “jail within a jail,” a stockade where anyone the administration wished detained was held incommunicado without charges. This chapter of the World War Two incarceration of Japanese Americans left scars on the community which have lasted to this day.

A 'disloyal' being conveyed to Tule Lake Segregation Center
The Project
As I was making Enemy Alien, documenting detained Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti’s struggle for freedom, I was struck by how the resistance he led among his fellow detainees resonated with the history of Tule Lake.

Attending the Tule Lake pilgrimage in 2010, I was excited to meet many important first-hand storytellers, including members of the Hoshi Dan (or Hokoku Seinen Dan), a young men's militant group that openly adopted a pro-Japan attitude. I started gathering contacts for developing a documentary on this relatively unknown but deeply significant chapter of American history.

The more we learn about what happened at Tule Lake, the more it informs the vexing questions raised in the pervasive and unending war the U.S. now sustains, encompassing "national security," immigration, racial conflict and extremism.

How You Can Help

The Tule Lake Documentary (working title) is currently in production, interweaving storylines of key subjects with the collective history they endured, incorporating the work of historians visualized through archival animations. In 2014 we received a Federal grant from the Japanese American Confinement Sites program of the National Parks Service. To receive these matching funds we need substantial in-kind and cash contributions. Please support the completion of this project possible with your tax-deductible contribution:

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