Depending on whom you ask, "Jade Helm 15" is either a domestic military training exercise or a covert operation for the federal government to take over the state of Texas -- and 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz just became the latest Republican to fan the flames of the latter theory.
Speaking at the South Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention Saturday, the Texas senator told Bloomberg's David Weigel that his office had contacted the Pentagon about the exercise, which officially consists of a series of training drills throughout the Southwest for about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs. Conspiracy theorists operating on the fringes of the conservative blogosphere, however, have other ideas about what the exercise, known as Jade Helm 15, is intended to do -- such as implement martial law, seize Americans’ guns, and imprison political dissidents.
Rather than squash those theories outright, Cruz apparently decided it was better to be safe than sorry.
"My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise," he said. "We are assured it is a military training exercise. I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don't trust what it is saying."
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Cruz isn’t the only presidential hopeful keeping suspicions about Jade Helm 15 alive. Last month, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul -- who’s proven to be quite fond of conspiracy theories -- didn’t exactly swat down concerns about the exercise, telling Iowa-based radio host Jan Mickelson that he had heard of Jade Helm only in passing and would look into it.
Perhaps the most overblown response, however, came from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who earlier this week requested the State Guard monitor Jade Helm 15 in order to "safeguard Texans' constitutional rights, private property [and] civil liberties."
The decision was enough to prompt former GOP state Rep. Todd Smith to send an angry letter decrying the governor’s willingness to “pander to idiots.” But Abbott received far more support from Sen. Cruz.
"I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott," the senator said to Bloomberg. "He is a long-time friend and mentor of mine.”
Later in his speech to the South Carolina Republican convention, Cruz reportedly told the crowd about the importance of his fight for religious liberty in the face of ever-expanding rights for LGBT people. Pointing to a recent dispute between Houston pastors and the city’s openly gay mayor over an equal rights ordinance, Cruz said, "Just because you're paranoid … doesn't mean they're not out to get you."