Fact Check

Walmart Closure Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories abound to explain why several Walmart stores suddenly shut down in April 2015.

Published April 23, 2015

 (ValeStock / Shutterstock)
Image courtesy of ValeStock / Shutterstock
Various military- and legal-related conspiracy theories explain why several Walmart stores suddenly closed in April 2015.

WalMart looms large in the American landscape — not just as the operator of a ubiquitous chain of retail discount stores that encompasses over 4,500 outlets across the U.S., or as the economic behemoth that is both the world's largest company (by revenue) and the world's biggest private employer. No, WalMart also looms large as a shadowy behind-the-scenes force, a willing collaborator in furthering furtive government plots through actions such as transporting signs announcing the upcoming imposition of martial law on WalMart trucks, allowing federal immigration officials free rein to enter WalMart stores and arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant, and secretly funding the legal defense costs of a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager.

It's no wonder, then, that rumors began to swirl in April 2015 when several WalMart stores around the U.S. were abruptly closed due what WalMart claimed were "plumbing problems": WalMarts in Pico Rivera, California, Livingston, Texas, Midland, Texas, Brandon, Florida, and Tulsa, Oklahoma, all suddenly closed their doors, with WalMart corporate announcing that some of those outlets would be shuttered for six months or more.

Several aspects of these closures struck WalMart employees and shoppers as implausible. How was it that several stores in widely dispersed areas of the U.S. with nothing in common all needed to be shut down simultaneously in order to address "plumbing problems"? Why were all these stores closed with barely more than a few hours' notice to WalMart customers and workers? Why should rectifying plumbing issues require that these stores be closed for upwards of six months? Why the seeming lack of required city work permits and marked septic or plumbing trucks at the affected locations? In the absence of more satisfying explanations, skeptical onlookers developed numerous conspiracy theories about the "real" reasons behind the closures:

  • The closures were a form of "union-busting" activity intended to get rid workers who were publicly critical of WalMart's labor practices, such as employees of the Pico Rivera store. However, this theory doesn't account for why several other WalMart stores not particularly known as hotbeds of labor activism were also shuttered.
  • The closures were linked to the U.S. Army's Jade Helm military exercise scheduled for the summer of 2015 (which involved soldiers trying to operate undetected amongst civilian populations in areas where residents will be advised to report any suspicious activity), the imposition of martial law, and the construction of so-called "FEMA Domes" across Texas. (This theory didn't account for why WalMart stores in states far outside the geographic range of the Jade Helm exercises, such as Florida and Oklahoma, should also have been closed.
  • The affected stores received radioactive food shipments from the Fukushima region of Japan (the site of the a nuclear power plant that melted down after a massive 8.9 earthquake hit that country in March 2011) and are closed for necessary decontamination efforts. (This theory didn't account for why only five geographically dispersed WalMarts out of the thousands of U.S. stores would have been so affected. Were these five WalMart stores unique in importing food products from Japan?)
  • WalMart violated local and federal building codes in erecting their stores and needed a cover story to explain closures required to furtively remove dangerous construction materials such as asbestos. (But why would only five WalMarts out of thousands have been built with code-violating materials? And why risk calling attention to the issue by shutting them all down simultaneously?)
  • WalMart closed the stores in order to avoid having to pay out damages for some unspecified form of lawsuit. (This didn't make much legal sense, as closing particular stores wouldn't protect the WalMart corporation from lawsuits involving them, businesses typically carry liability insurance to cover such contingencies, and the financial losses the chain would suffer from closing down multiple stores for several months each would likely be costlier than anything but a very large lawsuit.)
  • The closed WalMart stores were being converted into giant entrance facilities for a network of underground tunnels that the U.S. military would use to link "deep underground military bases" (DUMBS) and secretly transport troops across the U.S. (But why risk public exposure by building all those entrances in existing WalMart stores when the federal government owned plenty of land all over the country? And unless the military only intended to move troops to and from a handful of states, they'd need other entrances and exits, so where were are those other entrances going to be located, and how would the military have covered their construction? For that matter, how was this massive underground tunnel complex across the U.S. going to be built in the first place?)
  • The closed WalMart stores were to be used as "food distribution centers" and housing for "invading troops from China, here to disarm Americans." (Didn't seem likely Chinese ground troops could disarm the entirety of America while being housed and fed in just four states out of fifty.)
  • Something involving lots and lots of helicopters that allegedly "flew to one of the mysteriously closed Walmart stores in Texas." (This according to one anonymous source in Spring, Texas, who apparently couldn't identify whether that store was the one in Livingston or Midland, even though those cities are over 400 miles apart).

As unsatisfying as it may be, the most plausible theory from this bunch was that the closed WalMart stores all had really bad plumbing problems.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.