How One Gulf Coast Town Got Caught Up In The Military Takeover Paranoia

May 18, 2015 6:00 a.m.

When conspiracy theories about a possible military takeover of Texas were just starting to bubble up on fringe blogs in late March, the acting mayor of Biloxi, Mississippi wrote a letter inviting U.S. Army special forces to conduct the “Jade Helm 15” training exercise during the first week of August.

Any mention of “Jade Helm 15” disappeared from the paperwork by the time the Biloxi City Council approved a resolution in early May allowing the military to train there. But that still didn’t stop bloggers from speculating that martial law was creeping its way to Mississippi.

“Jade Helm 15” has been described by the U.S. army as a routine, multi-state operation scheduled to take place from July 15-Sept. 15. While parts of the exercise were initially reported to be taking place in California, Colorado and Nevada, the latest information available indicates that the training will be carried out in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.

In a letter dated March 31 and addressed to the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Biloxi’s then-acting mayor, Kenny Glavan, invited the military “to conduct military training ISO JADE HELM 15 within our jurisdiction from August 1st to August 8th, 2015.”

But plans for the exercise apparently changed along the way. In a letter dated May 7, acting Mayor Robert Deming III invited the commander of Naval Special Warfare Group TWO in Virginia Beach, Virginia to conduct a training exercise called “Serpent Guardian” from Aug 1-8 in Biloxi.

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Yet Intellihub, a conspiracy theory website that’s been at the forefront of speculation that the training exercise is a cover for the implementation of martial law, alleged last week that Glavan had “sold out a portion of the city for the United States Special Operations Command” to conduct “Jade Helm 15.” The article noted that a closed school listed as a venue for the training exercise “looks like a nice place to activate a FEMA camp.”

A video posted by YouTube user DAHBOO77 also claimed that Biloxi signed on to host “Jade Helm 15” and allow the military to conduct surveillance, citing the older version of the City Council resolution from March. It had over 30,000 views as of Friday afternoon:

“What I find interesting is that the school is going to be under surveillance this whole time, from right now all the way until the end of this operation,” the narrator said in the video. “So if it’s just an empty school sitting there in a lot that’s been abandoned, why would they be flying over it?”

The March version of the resolution listed a closed school, a closed casino, and a warehouse as venues that the city would allow the military to use for the training exercise. The resolution also stated that Glavan consented to allowing the U.S. government to “collect overhead imagery and remote sensing data” of the school from March 19-Aug. 8.

City officials may not have thought twice about inviting the military to train in Biloxi. It has been the home of Keesler Air Force Base since World War II.

The conspiracy theory blogs missed some other crucial context. In the same paragraph consenting to the data collection, Glavan explicitly stated that “this collection will not be utilized to support local, state or federal law enforcement in order to protect the constitutional rights of the people of this community.” The school also wasn’t listed among the venues available for the training exercise in the final resolution approved by the City Council.

Vincent Creel, public affairs manager for the city of Biloxi, told local TV station WXXV that the military did approach the city about holding a training exercise. But he assured residents that there’s “no big conspiracy” afoot.

“The key thing for the people of Biloxi and the Gulf Coast to know is we’re not going to do anything that is going to jeopardize anybody’s life or anybody’s property or anything else,” he told the news station.

Creel didn’t respond Friday to multiple requests for comment from TPM.

Biloxi isn’t the only community outside of Texas to deal with confusion about the nature of routine military training exercises since “Jade Helm 15” became a topic of national conversation last month, either.

The New Times Broward-Palm Beach reported Wednesday on a video that appeared to show helicopters landing and people marching across the streets in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The video was posted in late March by the same YouTube user who uploaded the video that was skeptical of the upcoming training exercise in Biloxi:

“You are looking at footage of a massive, martial-law-type military drill in Florida,” the narrator said in the video.

“Choppers everywhere, they’re rounding people up in the streets,” the narrator added.

Broward County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Veda Coleman-Wright told The New Times that her office had issued a news release ahead of the March exercise. The release stated that law enforcement agencies in the county were providing support to U.S. Special Operations Forces for a two-week long urban training exercise.

TPM illustration by Christine Frapech. Images via screenshot and Shutterstock/Vanderwolf Images.

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