Texas’s governor moved this week to protect his state from an Obama-led military takeover.
Governor Greg Abbott, who decisively beat Wendy Davis in the 2014 to take Rick Perry’s job, announced on Tuesday that he’s going to sic the Texas Rangers on the U.S. military.
Not really. But it sure sounds that way.
What’s actually going on is U.S. troops are doing training exercises—called Jade Helm 15—in several states throughout the Southwest, including Texas.
The mission will involve Special Operations forces moving through the Southwest and training for covert missions. A declassified map posted online in March (whose legitimacy The Washington Post confirmed) identified several of those states as “hostile” and “leaning hostile.” That isn’t particularly unusual, as Dan Lamothe explained at The Washington Post, but it has a small number of Texans—including, apparently, the governor—totally freaking out and (arguably) overreacting.
Conspiracy theories about the training exercise have spread through cyberspace with all due speed, as such theories are wont to do.
And, naturally, Alex Jones, of conspiracy theory-touting Infowars fame, is involved.
The Drudge Report aggregated a number of stories about the exercises, directing readers to Infowars—including a March 24 story that said the trainings in Utah and Texas led observers “to fears that traditionally conservative areas may be a simulated target for future domestic operations.”
That story also said “military scholars” have started hypothesizing that such troops “would be used to target political groups such as the Tea Party.”
On March 26, Drudge linked to another InfoWars story suggesting the operations could be preparing for the implementation of martial law, which would certainly be big news indeed.
Those stories and others drew traffic and stoked fears.
On April 27, Raw Story reported that an Army spokesman appeared before a packed crowd at a Bastrop County Commission meeting in Texas to try to try to quell the citizens’ anxieties.
“The Army spokesman assured participants that the United Nations was not involved in the operations, but the crowd jeered when he told them he was not familiar with Agenda 21,” wrote Travis Gettys on the site.
That little meet ’n’ greet didn’t have its desired effect.
The next day, Abbott announced that he had directed Major General Gerald “Jake” Betty, commander of the Texas State Guard, to monitor Jade Helm 15.
In a letter to Betty, he said he made the move “[t]o address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe.”
The Texas military has three branches, as its website details, including the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard, as well as the Texas State Guard. The governor, in this case, is its commander-in-chief.
Abbott’s decision to err on the side of Alex Jones has drawn a bit of joshing from the left.
“Abbott’s pandering to paranoid, secessionist fools would be comical if it wasn’t so costly and frightening,” said Glenn Smith, the director of the Progress Texas PAC. “Abbott has the state military confronting the U.S. military because some nutcases fear, what, armed U.S. takeover of Texas? Seriously? What next? Will Abbott call out the troops to protect us from alien abduction, abominable snowmen and Bigfoot, or should I say an invasion of Bigfeet?”
Jason Stanford, a longtime Democratic Texas consultant and member of the Truman National Security Project, said Abbott’s move is great news for conspiracy-mongers everywhere.
“A lot of people think he’s more sensible than this, but he has yet to stop campaigning for a Republican primary that he won virtually unopposed,” he said. “Most Texans aren’t like this.”
That said, Abbott isn’t without defenders. Republican State Representative Jonathan Stickland defended the move enthusiastically and said Texans’ distrust of the Obama administration probably informed his decision. He said that the exercises have caused “justified concern.”
“I don’t want to instill panic,” he added. “I’ll tell you what’s scary is if we get to a place where it’s not normal to question our government or their motives. We should always be questioning government.”
And Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican consultant, said he would be surprised if Jade Helm 15 was a subversive plot to occupy Texas. But he added that he understands Texans’ concerns.
“It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false,” he said. “Is every single conspiracy theory wrong? No. Most of them probably are.”