Political Paranoia in Texas

Remember when Governor Rick Perry was firing up tea party rallies in Texas in 2009 against President Obama’s $786 billion federal economic stimulus package? He was running for reelection, answering reporters questions, when he suggested that Texans might get so fed up they might want to secede from the union. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know who knows might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re pretty independent to boot.”

It is now May, 2015 and Greg Abbott ,Governor of Texas, has issued a directive to the Texas State Guard commander to monitor “Jade Helm 15“, an 8 week Pentagon training exercise to take place in Texas, New Mexico, California and other Southwestern states. Abbott wrote that it was “important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.” A comprehensive and forceful statement. Here’s the background of events that led up to Governor Abbott sending his directive to Major General Gerald Betty.

Jade Helm was announced in March by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, saying that while a multi-state training operation was not unique, “the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart.” Army officials said Jade Helm was a giant war game across the Southwest, with Green Berets and other elite personnel honing their skills in terrain they might find overseas. It would take place in remote areas on “private and public land with permission from private landowners and from state and local authorities.” They added that the most noticeable effect on local communities will be “an increase in vehicle and military air traffic and its associated noise.”

In the months that followed the announcement in March, conservative commentators and right-wing bloggers in Texas have inundated social media with conspiracy theories and “black helicopters” descending on Texans. They charge that Jade Helm is part of a secret plan to impose martial law, take away people’s guns and arrest political activists. The overall theme is that Jade Helm is an Obama led hostile takeover of red-state Republican Texas.

Reactions to Governor Abbott’s directive ranged from condemnation to support. Some warned that he had given conspiracy-minded activists an “air of respectability”. U.S. Congressman Louis Gohmert, Republican, a strong supporter, called for changes in the war-simulation map that labeled Texas, Utah and part of Southern California as “hostile”. He said, that because the Obama administration believed “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.”

In contrast, Todd A. Smith, a Republican former state legislator and lawyer, said in an interview, “I have been an eyewitness to the sort of radicalization of Republican primary politics in Texas, but this was a shocking extension of this fanaticism.” He added, “I was really shocked to read that a governor was issuing press releases employing the Texas State Guard at taxpayer expense to protect us from the U.S. Military. In a letter to the governor’s office, he criticized Abbott for “pandering to idiots.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Texas Republican running for President, was interviewed by Bloomberg News. He said he understood the concerns of citizens about Jade Helm since the federal government for six years (Obama terms) has been “disrespecting the liberty of its citizens. When you see a federal government that is attacking our free speech rights, our religious liberty rights, our Second Amendment rights, that produces distrust as to government.” David Dewhurst, a former lieutenant governor and Republican praised Governor Abbott on CNN and said, “ I think you’ve got some paranoia, which is based upon legitimate concerns by my fellow Texans, by myself and a lot of Americans about the trustworthiness and the competence of President Obama, but let’s not project that on to our military.”

Walmart, executives felt compelled to respond to the conspiracy advocates –in the opposite direction. They dismissed rumors that tunnels were being built by the military beneath closed stores, including one in Midland, Texas, as part of a Pentagon-led takeover. The Texas Democratic Party called on the governor to apologize to military personnel. House of Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, said some fellow members of Congress told him they were appalled that the governor would order a state body to watch the United States Military. “It’s dangerously irresponsible for a governor to fan the flames of conspiracy and paranoia against our military and government,” he added.

In Bastrop County outside Austin, County Judge Paul Pape said military leaders had made a presentation to county officials about Jade Helm 15 and were given permission to conduct the training exercise in the area. When news of this circulated on social media, county leaders asked military officials to return for a meeting with the public. On April 27, a meeting was held that drew about 200 people. Judge Pape commented after the meeting, “The people who came with an open mind I think got some useful information. The ones that came with their minds made up probably left with their minds made up.”

Gail Collins summed up the right-wing fueled ruckus in Texas succinctly in her New York Times Op Ed, “The Alamo And Walmart” on May 8, “It’s hard not to be enthralled when Walmart denies that tunnels are being built under its stores to ferry troops into Texas where they will tear up the Constitution and confiscate everybody’s guns. Hey, no laughing matter in Texas.”

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