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:
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R)
Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott brought “Jade Helm 15” out of the shadows of the right-wing fringe and into the light of the national media when he asked the State Guard to monitor the operation so that “Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
Abbott has defended the move as an attempt to simply improve communication about the exercise between his concerned constituents and the U.S. military, but even a former Republican lawmaker has accused the governor of “pandering to idiots.” What’s clear is that regardless of his intentions, Abbott raised “Jade Helm 15” to the level of national conversation and granted a degree of legitimacy to more paranoid Texans’ view of the operation.
Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)
Libertarian icon Ron Paul praised Abbott’s decision to have the State Guard keep watch over “Jade Helm 15” in a YouTube video posted last week.
“I think this is very good that the governor has done this,” Paul said before cautioning that he wasn’t yet sold on the conspiracy theories circulating about the planned training exercise.
“I’m not at the point where I think this is the first step and six months from now you’re gonna have see martial law all around the country and I sure hope I’m right on that,” the former congressman said. But that didn’t stop him from speculating that the U.S. military is training to “enhance the empire” overseas.
The inclination to dig deeper apparently runs in the family, too. The former congressman’s son, Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, told an Iowa-based radio host last month that while he wasn’t familiar with “Jade Helm 15” he’d “look into” the planned training exercise.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz told Bloomberg Politics that he reached out directly to the Pentagon about “Jade Helm 15” and was assured the operation really was nothing more than a training exercise. That said, Cruz still validated conspiracy theorists’ concern.
“I think part of the reason is, we have seen for six years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens and that produces fear,” Cruz said. “When you see a federal government that is attacking our free speech rights, our religious liberty rights, our Second Amendment rights. That produces distrust as to government.”
For better or for worse, celebrities have a lot of influence over their fans’ political beliefs — and former “Walker, Texas Ranger” star Chuck Norris carries a lot of cachet with conservatives. Norris told “Jade Helm 15” alarmists that their suspicions were valid in a column on conspiracy theory website WND that linked the planned training exercise to the threat of the Islamic State terror group.
“The U.S. government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise.’ But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it,” Norris wrote. “Whatever Jade Helm 15 actually is, I think it is more than coincidental that the FBI director just confessed in February that the presence of ISIS can be felt in all 50 states of the U.S. and that the Pentagon is suddenly running its biggest military training exercise with every branch of the military across seven Southwestern states.”
Conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Alex Jones and his website InfoWars have been a hotbed of speculation about the true purpose of “Jade Helm 15” for weeks now, even though Jones has criticized the mainstream media for stating that he’s speculated the operation is a cover for the implementation of martial law. He claims that’s a “stinking lie” he’s never actually told.
But the reality is that since March, Jones has insisted he has “100 percent irrevocable proof that there is a global move, not just here but all over the world, to militarize police and put standing armies on the streets to suppress the population and carry out political operations.” In videos with titles like “Entire Federal Martial Law Plan Exposed,” he argued that the U.S. military has clear plans to implement martial law and “Jade Helm 15” would allow troops to practice for such a takeover.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)
Tea party darling Louie Gohmert on Tuesday went the furthest of any elected official so far in addressing the concerns of people who are suspicious of “Jade Helm 15.” In a statement, Gohmert criticized the military’s labeling of Texas as “hostile” for the purposes of the training exercise as “callous and suspicious.”
“The map of the exercise needs to change, the names on the map need to change, and the tone of the exercise needs to be completely revamped so the federal government is not intentionally practicing war against its own states,” the congressman demanded.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R)
Aspiring Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry left the door open on Tuesday for Texans to question the federal government about the planned training exercise.
“I think it’s OK to question your government — I do it on a pretty regular basis. The military’s something else,” Perry told reporters at an event in Dallas, according to The Texas Tribune.
That’s a similar tack to the one his former lieutenant governor David Dewhurst took in a Dallas Morning News op-ed last week: that men and women in uniform must be above suspicion. But Perry suggested that it was perfectly legitimate to question the intentions of “civilian leadership.”
Illustration by Christine Frapech. Photos via AP.