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Catherine Thompson

Catherine Thompson is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. Before joining TPM, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She is a graduate of New York University, where she served as the deputy managing editor of NYU's student newspaper, the Washington Square News. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Catherine

The Pentagon has no plans to stage a military takeover of the Lone Star state. There are no tunnels covertly being constructed under West Texas' shuttered Wal-Mart stores.

So why are the fringes of the Internet still abuzz with rumors that the U.S. military is on the cusp of imposing martial law in "hostile" Texas under the guise of a training exercise dubbed "Jade Helm 15"?

Representatives of the military and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), whose state is expected to host part of the planned training exercise, have sought to tamp down speculation that "Jade Helm 15" is anything other than a standard training exercise.

But a slew of other influential figures in conservative circles have either deliberately or inadvertently given credence to those who buy into the wild conspiracy theories surrounding the upcoming exercise.

Here's a look at who's been stoking the fire:

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Tuesday welcomed the prospect of being subpoenaed in a criminal case against two of his former allies accused of directing lane closures on the George Washington Bridge to punish a politician who refused to endorse the governor's re-election effort.

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A trio of notorious anti-Muslim extremists were behind the provocative "Muhammad art exhibit and cartoon contest" where two gunmen opened fire Sunday in Garland, Texas.

The event, which featured Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders as its keynote speaker, was sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an organization with the stated objective of combating "capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism" amid all levels of government and the mainstream media. The AFDI is led by president Pamela Geller and vice president Robert Spencer, who've been at the forefront of the anti-Islamic fringe for years, and the group has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Anti-Defamation League also noted that Geller and Spencer's secondary anti-Islam group, Stop Islamization of America, seeks to "rouse public fears about a vast Islamic conspiracy to destroy American values."

"After the Charlie Hebdo massacre – and after the violent Muhammad cartoon riots a few years ago – there should have been Cartoon Exhibits all over the free world, to show the jihadists and their stealth allies in groups that are doing all they can to intimidate the West into abandoning the freedom of speech) that we will not kowtow to violent intimidation," Geller wrote in a blog post announcing the event. "But there were no such exhibits. The free world was ready to submit. But we aren’t."

Matt Duss, who tracked Geller and Spencer for years at the Center for American Progress and now serves as the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, told TPM in a phone interview Monday that such antics have made Spencer and Geller somewhat pariahs on the right.

“Even among people here in Washington that promulgate these ridiculous claims about the insidious Muslim menace in America, Spencer and Geller are seen as kind of an embarrassment," Duss said.

But Spencer and Geller have found success with grassroots-level events like the Mohammad cartoon contest, he pointed out.

"In Garland, theres a large Muslim-American community that’s been building an Islamic center," Duss explained. "In Geller and Spencer’s telling, Muslim-Americans simply practicing their faith non-violently is part of this mass plot to eventually take over the institutions of the United States."

Here's what you need to know about Geller, Spencer and Wilders' history of anti-Muslim activism.

Pamela Geller

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