Lawmakers laugh off Jade Helm theories

Jade Helm 15, a seven-state military exercise that has inspired wild theories about the Obama administration taking over Texas, began on Wednesday.

The eight-week exercise features about 1,200 soldiers, including Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other special operations troops, and it focuses on “unconventional warfare,” such as conducting new military tactics in austere, undeveloped environments, like the kind found in rural Texas.

And that’s the problem.

ADVERTISEMENT

The massive size of the operation, the secretive nature of the military exercises and a natural predilection in the Lone Star State to distrust Obama and the federal government have created deep unease.

Speculation runs the gamut from the president wanting to seize people’s land and their guns to the government collecting data on citizens in a mass surveillance dragnet. Some have said the Army wants to impose martial law.

The theories have gained some high-profile sympathizers, including Ted Cruz, the state’s junior senator and a GOP presidential candidate; Texas Gov. Greg Abbot (R), who has put the State Guard on alert for the length of the exercise; and Chuck Norris.

The actor and star of “Walker, Texas Ranger” has said he thinks Jade Helm 15 is “likely more than a military exercise.”

A grassroots movement has even sprung up, with thousands of volunteers pledging to keep an eye on the exercise as it unfolds.

But mentioning the operation’s name on Capitol Hill mostly generates laughter, especially among Texas lawmakers.

“Is this keeping you up at night?” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryUS officials express optimism negotiations with Iran possible GOP rep: 'This story is not over' if Iran continues 'aggressive' and 'provocative' behavior Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE (R-Texas) asked.

“I’ve tried to make it clear these are the operators whom we count on to stop terrorists every day and are not going to blindly follow President Obama off to confiscate our guns and round people up and put them in the bottom of Wal-Marts, but, that’s, you know—” he said before shrugging.

“Oh, God,” Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) replied, lowering his head to the side when asked about the operation.

Veasey said that based on his time in the Legislature in Austin and “watching how sort of reckless and right and radical that the leaders down there have become … sadly, I’m not surprised” by the reaction.

Concerns about the exercise have persisted despite repeated statements from the Defense Department and Army leaders.

Asked if there was anything nefarious about Jade Helm during a press conference in May, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter gave a curt reply.

“No,” he said.

The event’s organizer, Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., has issued statements, including some earlier this week, promising that local populations have nothing to be worried about.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has been briefed on the operation by the Pentagon, chuckled when Jade Helm was mentioned and blamed the controversy on a “number of conspiracy theorists who are spinning people up for no good reason.”

“I think after people have been briefed on it and understand what’s going to happen — it’s a traditional military exercise. It’s not a threat,” the state’s senior senator told The Hill.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who has not been one to shy away from a fight with the administration, said some people have gone off the deep end when it comes Jade Helm.

Gohmert said he’s “upset” that military documents for the exercise used real city names and labeled them, and the entire state of Texas, as “hostile.”

“That was inappropriate,” Gohmert said. “I have no conspiracy theories. I just think it was a slap at Texas.”

Thornberry said there’s “just a lot of mistrust of the president, so it’s just a reflection of that.”

He credited the military for meeting with local officials in the communities that Jade Helm will affect.

“They’ve been good. It’s just a very difficult political environment given the attitude toward the president,” Thornberry said.

He added that there are “always some people who try to profit by conspiracy theories either to raise money, raise membership or raise visibility. You always have people trying to use things for their own purposes.”

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R), whose home state of Arizona is also set to partake in the exercise, said lawmakers could do more to boost awareness about the effort.

“We probably need to get a little more involved in that, in trying to get more information out as to exactly what it is. We can do that,” he said with a sigh.

Lawmakers will have plenty of opportunity to do so. Jade Helm won’t wrap up until Sept. 15, and Congress’s five-week August recess is between then and now.

“I know that they’re just military exercises,” McCain said.

“I know it,” he added with a wink.