FACT CHECK: Did U.S. Government Take Land From Hispanic Homesteaders During The Manhattan Project?

Joseph Casieri | Fact Check Reporter

A post shared on social media purports that during the U.S. Government’s Manhattan Project, a project creating a site for atomic testing in New Mexico, they moved out Hispanic homesteaders from their land.

Verdict: True

The claim is accurate. There were Homesteaders living in the region before the Manhattan Project.

Fact Check:

Christopher Nolan’s historical thriller “Oppenheimer” opened over the weekend to massive success, raking in  $235.5 million in The United States and Canada, The New York Times reported. Memes about the movie, however, have sparked criticism from Japan, which was hit with two nuclear weapons in World War II, according to Bloomberg.

The Twitter post claims that several hispanic families were moved out of Los Alamos for the purpose of creating a testing site for the Manhattan Project. This post was in response to another with a similar claim, though all the details of the original post were not able to be verified.

“29 Pueblo and Hispano farmers, sheepherders, and ranchers were forced to leave their land when the gov’t condemned it to build Los Alamos,” the tweet reads. “But I find no evidence they had less than 24 hours to do so. They were compensated, but at rates far below those of nearby White landowners.”

The claim that Hispanic homesteaders were living in the area that became the lab for the project is accurate. In 2001, The New York Times reported on a lawsuit against the federal government by Jose Gonzales and his family, demanding reparations for the land that was taken from them to create the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The Times reported that about 8,900 acres of the 54.000 needed for the site was privately owned by Hispanics who received only $7 an acre as opposed to the local Anchor Ranch which was paid $43 per acre.

An article from the National Park Service detailing the construction of the Los Alamos National Labratory stated the land was acquired by the army in 1942, when 12 homesteads still resided on the Pajarito Plateau. Some were forced off their property at gunpoint and others were given a lower amount, the article indicated.

The Atomic Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the history of the Manhattan Project, shared the story of Rosario Martinez Fiorillo who grew up in New Mexico during the time of the Manhattan Project. She recounts in an interview that their family was removed from their home by the government at gunpoint.

Congress passed a bill in 2004 that allocated $10 million to the heirs of the homesteaders to compensate them for the value of the land. Congress denied taking the land illegally, however, they did acknowledge that many of the Hispano homesteaders did not have legal representation and were paid much less than others in the area. (RELATED: Does Viral Video Show The Nova Kakhovka Dam Being Blown Up?)

Check Your Fact contacted Kai Bird, author of the Pulitzer prize winning book, American Prometheus, a biography on the father of the Atomic Bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer, for comment on the Los Alamos homesteaders. We also contacted the Atomic Heritage Foundation and we will update this piece if a response is provided.

This is not the first time a misinformation has been shared online. Check Your Fact recently debunked a claim that Garth Brooks cancelled his Vegas shows after backlash for serving Bud Light at his bar.

Joseph Casieri

Fact Check Reporter