Starting Wednesday, U.S. Army Special Operations Command will take point on a large-scale training exercise in Texas -- or if you believe some fringe outlets, they'll take point on the Pentagon's preparation for civil war. Jade Helm 15, as the exercise is called, will run through Sept. 15 and will involve unconventional warfare involving Army special operators, as well as representatives from the other services. It will focus on enhancing team-level elements' abilities to operate in asymmetric warfare well-removed from company- and battalion-level organization, said USASOC spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria.
It's July 15, the significance of which will vary widely based on perspective. For the American mainstream, it's a forgettable date marking the start of a routine military training exercise.
For some in unhinged circles, it's the start of an unprecedented crisis. USA Today highlights the occasion:
The New York Times talked to a woman who runs a hair salon in Christoval, Texas, where locals are apparently genuinely concerned about a possible military takeover. "They're worried that they're going to come in and take their firearms away," she said. "Martial law, basically. I try not to listen to all these conspiracy-theory-type people. All they're worried about is their beer and their guns."
Her instincts serve her well. The same cannot be said for many of her elected leaders.
For those just joining us, let's briefly recap. Defense officials announced months ago that this training exercise would kick off on July 15, and cover much of the Southwest. The number of personnel involved is quite small -- about 1,200 people -- and from Texas to California, the vast majority of Americans won't notice or care.
But in some right-wing circles, Jade Helm 15 is a mission in which the Obama administration, in conjunction with the U.S. military and Walmart, will impose martial law on much of the country. As these conservatives see it, the plan also includes gun confiscation and "secret underground tunnels."
Don't try to make sense of it; there's just no point.
As far-right hysteria grew louder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) felt the need to order the Texas Guard to "monitor" the military exercises -- just in case. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has stoked the same fires, and even Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) arranged a meeting with Pentagon officials and a three-star Air Force general, just to make sure American officials weren't planning a takeover of America, or something.
As recently as mid-May -- two months ago today -- Public Policy Polling found that one-third of Republicans believe the conspiracy theory that "the government is trying to take over Texas."
The theory itself has evolved and metastasized more than once -- I long ago stopped trying to keep up with the nonsense -- but it all comes to a head today, when the training drills begin without incident.
Some of you might be thinking that conspiracy theorists are going to feel pretty foolish when Jade Helm 15 comes and goes without any of the fears coming to fruition, but alas, right-wing politics doesn't work this way. Rather, when the exercise wraps up in September, the right-wing fringe will assume that the Obama administration would have hatched its dastardly scheme, but conservatives prevented the crisis by raising a fuss.