What's This?Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, Monday April 27, 2015.
Image: Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/Associated Press
By Megan Specia2015-05-06 19:54:49 UTC
Everything's bigger in Texas — including conspiracy theories.
One such theory has gained steam online; it says the U.S. military is about to invade the state. The rumors began in March and center around a planned military training operation set to take place in Texas over the summer, dubbed Operation Jade Helm 15.
Critics of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott say he added fuel to the conspiracy fire when he ordered Texas State Guard troops to monitor the military exercises in the state this summer throughout the eight-week simulation in order to protect Texans' "civil liberties."
“During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed," Abbott wrote to Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty, asking for "regular updates on the progress and safety of the operation."
Conservative bloggers, too, have added to the far-fetched story, while other prominent voices, including state officials and even 75-year-old martial artist Chuck Norris, have added their voices to the mix.
But what, if anything, is the basis for the claims, and more importantly, what is Operation Jade Helm 15?
Some on the far right believe the military operation is a front for introducing martial law in Texas. Blogger Dave Hodges wrote extensively on what he believes is the link between the military operation, the closure of several Wal-Marts in the area, and the imminent federal take over of the state.
Much of the speculation comes from the map below, that has been circulating online since at least mid-March, around the time the operation was first announced. It shows several southern states involved in the operation, including Texas, labeled with "hostile," apparently for training purposes.
Some say it is proof of impending martial law to "ensure compliance by the population regarding the unpopular policies currently being applied and executed by the United States government." Others have extended the conspiracy even further to include a series of underground tunnels and the use of recently closes Wal-Marts across the area as staging sites for an invasion.
Though he has since clarified that the guard will be present only to monitor the military exercises, why the governor lent credence to the claims by deploying it remains unclear.
The eight week-long exercise, which begins in July and ends in September, across seven states — Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi — is meant to provide training for covert operations in "hostile" territories using simulations. It was announced by the U.S. Army Special Operations in March.
The Pentagon has been clear that the operation is unique in its scale, and will aim to replicate the situations special forces officers encounter overseas.
While multi-state training exercises such as these are not unique to the military, the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart. To stay ahead of the environmental challenges faced overseas, Jade Helm will take place across seven states. However, Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) will only train in five states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The diverse terrain in these states replicates areas Special Operations Soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas.
The exercises will be carried out on private and public land, with the permission of the private landowners, and from state and local authorities, according to the Pentagon, and reiterated throughout their initial statement on the operation that local officials would be kept up to speed on Jade Helm 15. The military framed the operation as advantageous for locals.
"The most noticeable effect the exercise may have on the local communities is an increase in vehicle and military air traffic and its associated noise," read the statement. "There will also be economic gain: an increase in the local economy, in fuel and food purchases and hotel lodging."
The Pentagon could not be immediately reached by Mashable for comment on Wednesday, but a spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday that the operation did not put anyone's civil liberties at risk.
"Jade Helm is a long planned and coordinated exercise," Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren said. "We are not taking over anything."
The conspiracy has been driven in part by the prominent voices calling for scrutiny of the exercises. Norris, an outspoken advocate for conservative causes, wrote in a column on WorldNetDaily
"The U.S. government says, 'It’s just a training exercise.' But I’m not sure the term 'just' has any reference to reality when the government uses it," wrote Norris.
Norris also took the opportunity to voice his opinion on the limited information provided to local officials.
"It’s pretty sad and bad when major military ops are ordered in a large, fiery state like Texas and not even the governor or its senators know the specifics," wrote Norris. "It’s neither over-reactionary nor conspiratorial to call into question or ask for transparency about Jade Helm 15 or any other government activity," wrote Norris.
On the other end of the spectrum, former Texas Governor Rick Perry criticized Abbott for his response to the planned operation, calling out the governor's questioning of the trustworthiness of the U.S. military.
“It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis," said Perry, who is expected to throw his hat into the ring for the 2016 presidential election. "But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership, you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”
Former Republican state lawmaker Todd Smith, meanwhile, was less diplomatic in his response, and slammed the governor for "pandering to idiots" in a letter.
On Monday, the governor walked back the fear-mongering to some extent. "We have been provided assurances by the special operations forces that there is nothing for the public to worry about," he told reporters. He did not, however, rescind the order for the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercises.
That same day, Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, attempted to tamp down the fears of those who likened the presence of the U.S. military in Texas to "Nazi Germany."
“You may have issues with the administration. So be it. But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years,” he said in a community meeting in Bastrop, Texas. “I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”
Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments.Topics: chuck norris, military training, texas, U.S., World