'Jade Helm' war game sparks fears of Texas takeover

'Jade Helm' war game sparks fears of Texas takeover
© Getty

A Pentagon training exercise is sparking political controversy with conspiracy theories claiming it's a secret plot to impose military rule in Texas and other states.

The Defense Department says Operation Jade Helm 15 is a "realistic military training exercise" and notes war games are routinely conducted on American soil.

But skeptics insist there is more to the mission than meets the eye, fueling talk that President Obama is preparing to confiscate firearms, impose martial law, or even forcibly relocate citizens to FEMA internment camps.

ADVERTISEMENT
The rumors have gained particular traction in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered a state militia to monitor the military, leading to criticism that he is giving official credence to the theories.

The U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) maintains there is nothing menacing about Jade Helm.

The exercise announced on March 24 runs eight weeks, from July 15 to Sept. 15, with troops training in seven states: Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.

Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets and the 82nd Airborne are among the 1,200 troops who will practice counterinsurgency techniques.

The Pentagon said states were chosen with terrain that allows troops to practice complicated military maneuvers away from population centers.

A statement said the public “can expect nothing much different from their day-to-day activities since much of the exercise will be conducted in remote areas.”

“The most noticeable effect the exercise may have on the local communities is an increase in vehicle and military air traffic and associated noise,” it added.

“There will also be an economic gain: an increase in the local economy, in fuel and food purchases and hotel lodging.”

But right-wing bloggers seized on the exercise, noting that the Army's own statement said, “the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart.”

A map created for the simulated war games labeling parts of red states Texas and Utah as “hostile” areas and New Mexico as “uncertain (leaning hostile)” went viral, leading to theories Obama is cracking down on the West.

A parallel theory suggested that closed Wal-Mart stores were being used to stage the operation, leading the retail giant to issue an official denial to Talking Points Memo.

“There is no truth to the rumors,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the website.

And last month, residents from Bastrop County in Texas confronted military officials and local leaders about the training exercise at a public hearing.

The controversy has left western-state leaders in a bind, as they scramble to address public concerns while showing support for the military.

Abbott jumped into the debate by urging Texas National Guard Commander Gerald “Jake” Betty to monitor Jade Helm.

“During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote, vowing to “protect Texas.”

The governor defended his move, saying it would inform the public, but drew bipartisan scorn.

A former GOP state lawmaker said Abbott was “pandering to idiots.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a potential 2016 contender, also said Abbott went too far.

“It’s OK to question your government,” Perry told The Dallas Morning News. “I do it on a regular basis... but the military is something else."

The state Democratic party called Abbott “shameful” and pressed him to apologize for disrespecting service members.

“Here in Texas we honor our troops, and we know they deserve more respect than the governor has given them,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa in a statement.

Some conservative lawmakers, though, suggest the public is right to question Jade Helm because of what they see as the Obama administration’s unchecked power.

“When leaders within the current administration believe that major threats to the country include those who support the Constitution, are military veterans, or even ‘cling to guns or religion,’ patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) in a statement Tuesday.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a 2016 presidential candidate, sought more information from the Pentagon, despite his belief that Jade Helm is a legitimate drill.

“I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying,” he told Bloomberg last week.

But Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the House Armed Services chairman, threw cold water on the conspiracy theories.

“These are among the most patriotic, courageous, independent-thinking people I have ever been around,” he told the Wichita Falls Times Record News of the special forces participating.

“They are not robots that are going to go door to door confiscating people’s guns, or rounding people up into vacant Wal-Marts,” he added. “That’s not going to happen.”

Thornberry's office noted the military's strong ties to Texas, adding that 225,000 military and Defense Department personnel call the state home, alongside 1.7 million veterans, as of 2012.

His office suggested those worried about the exercise are few in number.

“Our office receives many calls from constituents on a number of issues,” said Jon Corley, Thornberry’s press secretary. “Some of these constituents have called with questions about Jade Helm, but we certainly have not been inundated with calls related to the military exercise."

For its part, the Pentagon is trying to reassure the public and denies rumors of a secret plot.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter was asked during a press conference Thursday if the military was "planning to overtake Texas."

Carter flatly replied “no” to laughter.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest also insisted Texans are safe.

“In no way will the constitutional rights or civil liberties of any American citizen be infringed upon while this exercise is being conducted,” said Earnest on April 29.

Asked for his reaction to Abbott, Earnest replied, “I have no idea what he’s thinking.”