Over the summer, the U.S. military is launching a training exercise called "Jade Helm 15," which ordinarily wouldn't generate any headlines at all. It's a series of training drills throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California, for about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs.
In some right-wing circles, however, "Jade Helm 15" is the basis for an extraordinary conspiracy theory
. The idea gets a little convoluted -- fringe theories often are -- but the unhinged activists apparently believe the Obama administration, in conjunction with the U.S. military and Wal-Mart, is planning to impose martial law on much of the country. As they see it, the plan also includes gun confiscation and "secret underground tunnels."
The whole thing is pretty nutty, even by 2015 standards, but the conspiracy theory has been so widely disseminated that some Republican policymakers feel the need to take it seriously. This week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered
the Texas Guard to "monitor" the military exercises -- just in case.
The Dallas Morning News reported
late yesterday that one former GOP lawmaker is not amused.
A 16-year Republican veteran of the Legislature wrote Gov. Greg Abbott saying he is appalled that the governor has given credence to a fringe group that fears the U.S. military would stage a take-over of Texas. [...] In his letter to the governor, Todd Smith of Euless, who retired from public office in 2013, said he is "horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn't have the backbone to stand up to those who do."
Smith decried the governor's willingness to "pander to idiots," adding that this week's developments are "embarrassing." It's important to "rational governance," the former lawmaker told Abbott, "that thinking Republicans call you out on it."
He added, "Is there anybody who is going to stand up to this radical nonsense that is a cancer on our state and our party?"
It's unclear, at least for now, whether Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to "monitor" the drills because the governor because he takes the conspiracy theory seriously or because so many of his right-wing constituents contacted his office that Abbott felt the need to placate them.
If it makes the Texas governor feel any better, he's not alone. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who's never met a conspiracy theory he didn't like, said this week that he's received several questions about the military exercise and he's going to look into it
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) yesterday acknowledged that his office has also heard from many concerned citizens, though the Republican governor has told his constituents there's simply nothing to be afraid of.
This even came up at the White House press briefing on Wednesday, where Josh Earnest fielded a question
on developments in Texas.
Q: What do you think it says that the governor of a state as large as Texas would feel the need to not just order the Texas National Guard, but to announce that he has ordered the Texas National Guard to monitor federal troops to protect his citizens? What does that say about relations and mistrust of this administration? EARNEST: I have no idea what he's thinking.... I think what is clear is that I feel confident in expressing to you without having a lot of detailed knowledge of the particular exercise is that the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Americans citizens will be in no way affected by this exercise.
For the conspiracy theorists, this changes nothing, since Earnest is no doubt seen as part of the nefarious scheme.