Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX) listens to questions from the press after a meeting at the White House on Dec. 5, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

The perils of political paranoia in Texas

Updated
In too many parts of the country, what’s true is far less important than what far-right paranoia tells people might be true. Take the latest out of Texas, for example, where the Dallas Morning News published this strange report yesterday.
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor federal military exercises in Texas after some citizens have lit up the Internet saying the maneuvers are actually the prelude to martial law. […]
 
Radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been sending out warnings for weeks regarding the exercise, saying it is the U.S. military positioning itself to take over the states and declare martial law. Abbott apparently has heard the concern and ordered the Guard to monitor the training and U.S. military personnel.
At issue is a military exercise called “Jade Helm 15,” which will reportedly include about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs, conducting training drills throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California.
 
According to right-wing conspiracy theorists, however, the exercise is a secret scheme to impose martial law. According to the Houston Chronicle, the unhinged activists believe “Walmart is in on it,” and “secret underground tunnels” are somehow involved.
 
The uproar from the fringe grew loud enough to generate an official response from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, trying to set the public’s mind at ease. It didn’t work – the conspiracy theorists, of course, believe Special Operations Command is on the scheme.
 
Indeed, every time officials try to explain to the public this is only a training exercise, the right-wing fringe perceives a smokescreen.
On Monday, command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria attended a Bastrop County Commissioners Court meeting to answer community questions and was met with hostile fire. Lastoria, in response to some of the questions from the 150 who attended, sought to dispel fears that foreign fighters from the Islamic State were being brought in or that Texans’ guns would be confiscated, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman. […]
 
“You may have issues with the administration. So be it. But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”
But the conspiracy theorists remain unconvinced, choosing to believe fringe online personalities instead.
 
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, then, that Texas’ governor directed state forces to “monitor” the operation, in part to “address concerns of Texas citizens.”
 
What’s especially interesting to me is the frequency with which the line blurs between elected officials’ concerns and fringe crackpots’ conspiracy theories. Indeed, it was just a couple of months ago that Texas state lawmakers held a hearing about the non-existent threat of the United Nations taking control of the Alamo.
 
Soon after, legislation was introduced in Tennessee to prohibit “no-go zones” in the Volunteer State, not because they’re real, but because “some people” said they’re afraid of them.
 
We’ve seen official efforts to combat Sharia law for no reason. We’ve seen repeated policies blocking funding for ACORN, despite the fact that the group doesn’t exist. A few years ago, Texas lawmakers took the possibility of a “NAFTA Superhighway” very seriously, despite the fact that the project existed only in the overactive imaginations of right-wing activists.
 
There are real policy challenges out there. Public officials would be wise to focus on them and ignore the made-up stuff.
 

Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott and Texas

The perils of political paranoia in Texas

Updated