An Internet conspiracy theory that the government is plotting a war against Texas and Utah has begun to gain widespread support. But the attention surrounding the Pentagon training exercise called Jade Helm 15 is not based on fact.
Jade Helm 15 is a training exercise set to take place in seven states from July 15 through Sept. 15. The exercise will feature U.S. Army Special Operations Command (UASOC) and service members from the military’s four branches. The Special Operations Forces will train in only Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, reported ABC. In recent days, right-wing commentators and writers have pushed forward the idea that the military is planning to invade Texas, confiscate guns, arrest President Barack Obama's political enemies, invoke martial law or some combination of any number of theories.
The military's report said Texas was chosen as the main base of activity because the exercise requires "large areas of undeveloped land with low population densities with access to towns." Jade Helm was essentially set out to be a large war-game, and while domestic-based training is not uncommon, its scope is larger than usual.
The operation was proposed in March, and the theories perhaps began when the UASOC released a map (via Slate) for Jade Helm that listed Texas, Utah and a part of Southern California as "hostile" territory. The demarcations were a part of the war games, an outline for the training exercise. The map, released in an unclassified presentation detailing the training exercise, was claimed as proof by critics that the government was planning to invade Texas.
Alex Jones, leader of the conspiracy-heavy site InfoWars.com, especially jumped on the story, ABC reported. Jones was especially troubled by the phrase "Master the Human Domain," which appears toward the end of the presentation alongside a logo of crossing arrows and a sword.
The theories surrounding Jade Helm were further legitimized when Texas Gov. Greg Abbot issued an order for the state guard to monitor the operation. The order, given to the state guard's commander, asked for Jade Helm to be watched over because it is “important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” the New York Times reported. Abbott said last Monday that he was not legitimizing conspiracy theories with his order.
“There was, frankly, an overreaction to the simple fact that someone has to be in charge with gathering and disseminating information,” he told reporters last Monday, according to the New York Times. “And we stepped in to play that role, which is a role to be applauded.”
Last week, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert released a statement that expressed concern as well. "Once I observed the map depicting ‘hostile,’ ‘permissive,’ and ‘uncertain’ states and locations, I was rather appalled that the hostile areas amazingly have a Republican majority, ‘cling to their guns and religion,’ and believe in the sanctity of the United States Constitution," the statement read. Gohmert also called for the the names of the areas on the map to be changed and for the "tone" of the exercise to be "revamped." Actor Chuck Norris also jumped into the fray, criticizing Jade Helm in an interview.
Others have spoken out against the theories, however, calling the backlash disrespectful to the military. One democratic leader was especially critical of the governor. “It’s dangerously irresponsible for a governor to fan the flames of conspiracy and paranoia against our own military and government,” Texas Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquín Castro said. Texas Republican and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mack Thornberry said to the Dallas Morning News that the concept of the military acting as Obama’s “private army” was “just silly.”