Texas residents were up in arms this week over a planned U.S. military training exercise that’s been portrayed in right-wing conspiracy theory circles as everything from a ploy to confiscate Americans’ guns to an excuse to abduct political dissidents.
The speculation reached such a fever pitch that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Tuesday asked the State Guard to monitor the exercise so that “that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
Residents’ fears can be traced back to a “leaked” slideshow presentation that outlined the operation’s goals and logistics and made the rounds on the fringe of the conservative blogosphere. The document was posted by the conspiracy theory website All News Pipeline to the document sharing site Scribd in March under the headline “Jade Helm Martial Law WW3 Prep Document 1.” As of Thursday, it had been viewed more than 2.1 million times.
The document contained a map that labelled certain states, including Texas and Utah, as “hostile.” So it comes as no surprise that rumors about a possible military takeover would run rampant among anti-federalists and conspiracy theorists.
It’s worth noting that Brazos Valley, Texas radio station WFAW actually posted the U.S. Army’s slideshow presentation back in February when county commissioners approved the military’s request to conduct the training exercise. The document posted by WFAW varies slightly in content and length from the slideshow cited by conspiracy websites.
The training exercise is scheduled to last from July 15 to Sept. 15 in Texas and six other states, according to a release from the U.S. Army.
“The public can expect nothing much different from their day-to-day activities since much of exercise will be conducted in remote areas,” the release read. “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. There will also be economic gain: an increase in the local economy, in fuel and food purchases and hotel lodging.”
The military’s official statements on “Jade Helm 15” have done little to quiet anti-government fear-mongering, though. Here are the wildest rumors about the training exercise that are floating around the fringes of the Internet.
Noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website, Infowars, have drawn much attention to “Jade Helm 15,” which he has claimed is a “psy ops” plot that will condition Americans to the sight of troops on the streets.
The document outlining the goals and implementation of the operation first surfaced March 19 on Jones’ InfoWars show:
“This is just a cover for deploying the military on the streets,” Jones said, adding “I’ve hardly ever heard of something joint like this unless they’re planning an invasion.”
All News Pipeline cited reports of United Nations medical vehicles traveling through southwestern states in recent days as proof that the international body planned to confiscate Americans’ firearms as part of “Jade Helm 15.”
In addition, a fringe blog called Freedom Fighters Reports linked the training exercise to what it said was a leaked Justice Department memo “calling for an all out gun confiscation and outlawing of firearms.” The post linked to 2013 document from the National Institute of Justice detailing various gun control initiatives, including buybacks and background checks.
An anonymous “Texas Ranger” wrote a letter to Dave Hodges, host of “The Common Sense Show,” claiming that there were “trains moving throughout Texas that have shackles inside some of the cars” ahead of the training exercise. He speculated that those trains would be used to transport political prisoners.
Some of the fringe blogs tracking “Jade Helm 15” have speculated about the existence of a “red list,” which the blog DC Clothesline describes as a list of “key resistance figures [who] would be kidnapped and ‘dealt with’ in advance of the implementation of martial law.” These websites posit that the “suspicious activity” described in the allegedly leaked slideshow presentation would include so-called “snatch-and-grabs” of people who’ve made the “red list” (The document posted by WFAW does not mention “suspicious activity”).
This theory was further pushed by a blog post at investmentwatch.com, which claimed that “Jade” stood for “Joint Assistant for Deployment and Execution” and that “Helm” stood for “Homeland Eradication of Local Militants.” As proof, that post linked to a military document that does not contain those acronyms.
Retail giant Wal-Mart closed five stores earlier this month, including one in Texas, without warning. All News Pipeline immediately connected those closures to “Jade Helm 15” by speculating that the stores would “be used as ‘food distribution centers’ and to house the headquarters of invading troops from China, here to disarm Americans one by one.”
At Before It’s News, another hub for conspiracy theorists, it was alleged that the military is operating bases underground inside a network of covert tunnels that run underneath the shuttered Wal-Marts.
The conspiracy theorists have even resorted to economic fear-mongering. Before It’s News claims that people are being compelled to hack into banks to cause a financial collapse. That economic catastrophe that would serve as a false flag and allow the military to implement martial law through “Jade Helm 15,” the website speculated.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at email@example.com.