Fact Check

Did a Veteran Group Discover a 'Disturbing Child Trafficking Bunker' in Tucson?

Police investigated and concluded the site is actually an abandoned homeless camp.

Published Jun 5, 2018

Image Via BasPhoto/Shutterstock.com
A veteran group patrolling in Tucson, Arizona, found a child trafficking site.

In late May and early June, conspiratorial web sites such as TheFreeThoughtProject.com reported that a veteran group had stumbled upon a "disturbing bunker" in Tucson, Arizona, that was being used for child sex trafficking:

When the veteran group reached the site, what they found was truly disturbing. Around the site, the group found trees equipped with restraints. They also found a stroller, a crib, hair dye, and pornographic material.

“The solar lights are what gave it away,” said Lewis Arthur. “If we hadn’t been walking on the right trail we would have never seen it, we would have walked right past it.”

Upon further exploration of the site, the veterans found an underground bunker which they say was used to keep children from escaping. Inside the bunker, they found a dresser and two crates. The area was only big enough for children to fit inside.

According to the Tucson Police Department, the group stumbled onto private property on 31 May 2018 off Interstate 19 and West Valencia Road in Tucson. But what they found is nothing more than an abandoned homeless encampment. In a statement on the incident posted to their public Facebook page, Tucson police reported:

Several individuals from a group of affiliated homeless veterans discovered the site and expressed concerns about possible criminal activity at that location. Tucson Police Department officers, detectives, and command staff conducted a thorough inspection of the site, spoke to the reporting parties, and collected evidence. Based on the department’s investigation to this point, there is no indication this camp is being used for any type of criminal activity, including human trafficking. Yesterday, an unsubstantiated assertion was made that a body might be buried at the site. A cadaver dog was used to check the area with negative results.

Tucson Police Sgt. Pete Dugan told us the department patrols many areas that have washes and deserts, and that law enforcement officers there are no strangers to homeless encampments. He also said the department has had officers, detectives, and command staff at the site investigating since the initial reports, along with human trafficking experts, and that no evidence of human trafficking has been found:

Lots of times people in homeless camps will use tether straps or cloth, anything to help hang clothing, food or even trash to keep it off the ground and away from animals. You will see myriad types of things that they collect and use. There was a crib there that had a bunch of stuff in it along with all kinds of different things. But there was no evidence of any human trafficking or any criminal activity in that area.

Immigration authorities confirmed their findings were in concurrence with those of Tucson police. In a statement, ICE told us:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security special agents who specialize in human smuggling and human trafficking collaborated with the Tucson Police Department on the information collected from the scene. Based on the information provided by TPD, ICE/HSI concurred with the police department’s findings that nothing at the site validates the claims of possible human trafficking or child sex trafficking.

Despite the fact no credible evidence has surfaced indicating the site was anything more than a shelter used by the local homeless population, conspiracy theorists have latched on to the suggestion of pedophilia, as they so often do. In late 2016, outlandish rumors circulated that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophilia ring out of a Washington D.C. pizza parlor. Since then, a veritable cottage industry of disreputable web sites have regularly hawked clickbait stories about "elite" pedophile rings.

For those sold on the far-fetched idea that a local police department would provide cover for a vague ring of child predators, the findings of investigators have fallen on deaf ears. Conspiracy theories about a "sex cult" rocketed across the Internet. The disreputable blog BigLeaguePolitics.com, for example, employed the headline, "Rothschilds and NXIVM Sex Cult Tied to Alleged Sex-Trafficking Land in Tuscon."

Big League Politics further reported (without any supporting evidence whatsoever) that the cover-up goes back more than a decade and has to do with the Clintons and Nxivm, a self-help organization whose founders in April 2018 were indicted by the United States Department of Justice on sex trafficking charges. The blog also reported that the mayor of Tucson's surname is Rothschild, "but it is unconfirmed whether he is related to the dynastic family" so often linked to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. (It did not take us long to confirm that he is not).

Conspiracy theories often circle back to the idea that a secretive global cabal (run by the Rothschilds or George Soros, depending on which wealthy Jewish person's name is most convenient) is waiting in the wings to seize power. In these narratives the cabal creates "false flag" mass casualty incidents as pretext to take all America's guns away — or, alternatively, these same people (who must be remarkably busy) prey on children.

Even though Tucson police released their findings casting serious doubt on the veracity of child trafficking claims on 4 June 2018, social media users continued to troll their Facebook page ("How much are the Rothchilds paying these days," one person asked.) Men from the veteran group were still apparently visiting the site, as evidenced by videos they were making and posting to the platform YouTube.

Craig Sawyer, founder of the organization Veterans for Child Rescue, for example, went into detail about his explorations of the site and finding what he believed to be a "rape tree":

There's just a lot of creepy evidence and information on the way that's set up that gave us the very specific indication that that was probably used as a rape tree. And there was a little tug line with rubber strap handles tied to it for pulling on.


Pendergast, Curt. "No Evidence to Support Child Sex-Trafficking Claims at Tucson Homeless Camp, Police Say."   Arizona Daily Star. 5 June 2018.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.