Some folks thought it was “inflammatory.” Some said it was “irresponsible,” others, “absurd,” still others, “disappointing.”
Those are some of the words affronted conservatives used in emails last month to describe my column on the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In it, I noted how Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism shed light on a movement of like-minded zealots motivated, as he was, by hatred of the federal government and rejection of its authority.
“Twenty years ago,” I wrote, “the idea of anti-government resistance seemed confined to a lunatic fringe operating in the shadows beyond the mainstream. Twenty years later, it is the mainstream, the beating heart of the Republican Party. And while certainly no responsible figure on the right advocates or condones what he did, it is just as certain that McVeigh’s violent antipathy toward Washington, his conviction that America’s government is America’s enemy, has bound itself to the very DNA of modern conservatism.”
That’s the argument conservatives found “hateful” “sickening,” and “dishonest.”
So it is, depending upon your religious outlook, a fortuitous coincidence or superfluous evidence of God’s puckish sense of humor that a few days later comes news of conservatives accusing the federal government of trying to take over the state of Texas. It seems the four branches of the U.S. military are gearing up for Operation Jade Helm 15, an eight-week training exercise across seven states. Right-wing conspiracy theorists online and on radio are claiming the exercise is actually a pretext for a federal takeover of the Lone Star State, with — get this — abandoned Walmarts to be used for the processing of prisoners!
Nor is this being laughed off by conservatives in positions of authority. To the contrary, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the state guard to monitor the exercise to safeguard Texan’s “civil liberties.” Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert has asked the military to change the exercise. Senator and presidential wannabe Ted Cruz said he checked with the Pentagon and while he accepts that it has no plans to conquer Texas — how magnanimous of him — “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty” because the Obama administration “has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy.”
Forgive me if I don’t spend a lot of space pointing out that this is stupid, though I can’t resist asking: If the Navy, Army, Marines, and Air Force were, indeed, planning to take over Texas, just what does Gov. Abbott think the state guard would be able to do about it?
There is, however, a more pressing observation to be made. After all, chances are good you’ve never heard about any of this — the story hasn’t garnered major headlines — and that, hearing of it now, you are not terribly surprised. That speaks pointedly of how inured we have become to the insane, paranoiac, anti-government prattle flowing like sewage from the political right. Duly elected leaders, putatively responsible people, give credence to the crazy idea that the federal government is about to attack its second most populous state and we shrug because it’s just another Tuesday in the lunatic asylum of American politics.
Look, I get it: No one wants to be compared to McVeigh. And I’ll repeat: No one in a position of responsibility embraces his prescription of terrorist violence. But it seems to me beyond argument that in the philosophical struggle for the soul of conservatism, he lost the battle and won the war. Much of what now passes for conservatism proceeds from extremes of government loathing that would have stunned Ronald Reagan himself.
Some of my readers used many colorful words to characterize that argument. Here’s the word I’d use:
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, May 11, 2015
“Who’s Really Laughing About The Invasion Of Texas?”: Just Getting The Larger Idea Into The Mainstream Media Is A Victory
All week long we’ve been having a good laugh over Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordering the Texas state guard to monitor Jade Helm 15, a military exercise planned by the Pentagon to simulate “covert military operations” in Texas and seven other western states. The conspiracy theory on the right is that the operation is designed to “take over” Texas, which is funny because the state is actually already part of the US. The speculation that abandoned Walmart stores are being prepped to hold gun-lovers and patriots makes it only more hilarious because, well, don’t Walmarts already do that?
We on the left can laugh all we want at the rightwing nut-jobs, but don’t think for a moment that liberals are the only ones enjoying the comedy. A lot of Republicans who know better are laughing up their sleeves about the hysteria the media coverage is generating. Texas Representative Louie Gohmert feeds the alarm, warning that “patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned” about the exercise. “I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott,” Texas Senator Ted Cruz says, letting the fantasy fly. “You know, I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It’s a question I’m getting a lot.”
But as Jon Stewart points out, these military exercises have been going on in Texas for years, and the Lone Star state has always welcomed them. Hmmm, what’s different now, he wonders, under a photo of our black president.
This is how ginning up the base works. If there’s a near-time analog, it would be the 24/7 coverage before the 2014 midterm elections about Ebola and the crazies’ theory that the feds were encouraging an epidemic in America by not quarantining anyone who set foot in West Africa. That was a bad joke, too, since, after all, nobody who had not been in West Africa or treated someone with Ebola had ever caught the disease. And the media coverage stopped on a dime when the election was over.
But, boy, did that coverage help drive racially biased voters to the polls.
Whether or not rank-and-file Texans really believe that US generals are threatening to put them under martial law, there’s a sense of pleasure in punking the national media and forcing them to discuss black helicopters. Check out this video, from the Austin Statesman and played this week on Hardball, that shows a US Army spokesman trying to calm fears at a town hall in Bastrop County, Texas. After the 4:30 mark, you can see a young woman smiling and hooting in delight as the spokesman tries to make his point, only to be confronted by folks shouting that they don’t believe a word he says.
The Texas takeover is like Obamacare death panels, or Sharia law coming to a court near you, or fluoride in the water supply. It doesn’t matter if the particular charge is proven to be completely false. Just getting the larger idea (don’t trust Obama’s feds, they want to un-cling you from your guns and religion) into the mainstream media is a victory. It validates the paranoia.
And just because Clive Bundy is paranoid does not mean the federal government isn’t actually out to get him. The right perceives their power waning and so proactively taunts the powers that be to expend resources and convince them they’re wrong. Many conservatives are sane enough to know that these conspiracy theories are a crock. But they see that Mitt Romney tried to win the presidency two years ago with a supermajority of white voters and lost convincingly. They want conservatives to win elections, and it is increasingly apparent that their ability to do so in national contests is diminishing rapidly. Defying or degrading the institutions that enforce the will of popular majorities is actually a logical way to delay their expression.
We’re going to have a long hot summer of this sad joke: Jade Helm 15 lasts from July 15 through September 15. There’ll be lots of laughs, but it’s not clear who’ll get the last one.
By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, May 8, 2015
“Men Of The People”: Multiple GOP Presidential Candidates Now Investigating Nutball Conspiracy Theory
As we discussed last week, conspiracy theorists in Texas are convinced that a multi-state training exercise the military is soon to conduct called Jade Helm is actually preparation for the declaration of martial law across the Southwest, with all manner of ungodly consequences to follow, including the confiscation of people’s guns and perhaps forced internment in re-education camps where patriotic Americans are forced to watch episodes of “Girls” with their eyes pried open “Clockwork Orange”-style and fed a diet of borscht and stale bread. Governor Greg Abbott, perhaps after noting continued healthy sales of tinfoil hats throughout the Lone Star State, announced that he had instructed the National Guard to “monitor” the exercise, just to make sure there’s no funny stuff going on. Last week Rand Paul told a radio host he’d look into it, and on Saturday, Ted Cruz made clear that he’s on the case:
“My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise,” Cruz, a Texas senator, told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention. “We are assured it is a military training exercise. 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.”
If the question you’re asking is, “Why would people believe something so preposterous?”, then what Cruz is saying almost makes sense. His argument is essentially that ordinary folks would never have contemplated such a thing a few years ago, but after Barack Obama went on his socialist rampage, trying to get people health coverage and imposing restrictions on Wall Street’s ability to obliterate the American economy again, it’s only natural that people would become so alarmed that it seems perfectly plausible to them that Obama would have sent the army to take over Texas.
But there’s a big difference between saying “Here’s an explanation for why some people might be taken with this insane idea” and saying “I too am taken with this insane idea.” Cruz is planting himself somewhere in the middle — he’s not endorsing it, but he’s not dismissing it either, which is why he instructed his staff to communicate with the Pentagon and inquire whether they are in fact about to launch some kind of coup.
Not only does Cruz not come out and say the conspiracy theory is absurd (he only goes so far as to say that “I have no reason to doubt” that martial law is not in the works), he seems to imply that it’s perfectly reasonable, based on the Obama administration’s record, for people to assume that something like that would actually be happening.
But it isn’t. You can have a thousand objections to actions this president has undertaken, but if you genuinely think that an army training exercise is actually a cover for a military coup, you’re a loon and there is not a single reasonable thing about what you believe. Like Greg Abbott and Rand Paul, Ted Cruz knows perfectly well how crazy this is. But he’s a man of the people, so he’ll just pass on what the people are telling him.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 4, 2015
Ask a Republican about the elaborate conspiracy theories that are so popular with many on the far right, and she’s likely to respond that, sure, those people are there, but liberals have their wackos, too. But there is a difference, in not just how far to the center of Republican power the wackos get (consider how many Republican members of Congress still aren’t sure that Barack Obama was born in the United States), but in the way the wackos are treated by the rest of the party. Which brings us to Texas:
Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Guard to monitor federal military exercises in Texas after some citizens have lit up the Internet saying the maneuvers are actually the prelude to martial law.
The operation causing rampant suspicions is a new kind of exercise involving elite teams such as the SEALs and Green Berets from four military branches training over several states from July 15 to Sept. 15
Called Jade Helm 15, the exercise is one of the largest training operations done by the military in response to what it calls the evolving nature of warfare. About 1,200 special operations personnel will be involved and move covertly among the public. They will use military equipment to travel between seven Southwestern states from Texas to California.
On Monday, command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria attended a Bastrop County Commissioners Court meeting to answer community questions and was met with hostile fire. Lastoria, in response to some of the questions from the 150 who attended, sought to dispel fears that foreign fighters from the Islamic State were being brought in or that Texans’ guns would be confiscated, according to a report in the Austin American-Statesman.
So in response to the fact that some of Texas’s dumbest citizens emerged from their doomsday prepper shelters long enough to harangue a colonel about their belief that martial law is coming to their state, Governor Abbott issued an order to the National Guard to monitor the movements of the U.S. military just to make sure they aren’t herding citizens into re-education camps or dropping Islamic State infiltrators into Galveston. I guess we’re safe from that, for the moment anyway.
Every politician encounters nutballs from time to time, and it isn’t always easy to figure out how to respond to them. But what’s remarkable about this is that we aren’t talking about an offhand remark Abbott made, or an occasion in which a constituent went on a rant to him and he nodded along to be friendly instead of saying, “You, sir, are out of your mind.” This is an official action the governor is taking. He’s mobilizing state resources, at taxpayer expense, because of a bizarre conspiracy theory that has some of Texas’s more colorful citizens in its grip.
It’s really hard to keep people from believing outlandish things. But you don’t have to indulge them. And that’s what so many Republicans do with the crazies on their side: They indulge them. Doing so doesn’t reassure them or calm them down, it only convinces them that they were right all along and encourages them to believe the next crazy thing they hear.
So please, Republicans, next time you’re tempted to say that extremism and fantastical thinking are just as prevalent and meaningful on the left as on the right, remember this.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 30, 2015
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), still an unannounced presidential candidate, campaigned in New Hampshire last week and told a group of voters that he and Abraham Lincoln share an ideological bond.
“Lincoln read the Constitution, and he also read the Bill of Rights, and he got down to the Tenth Amendment, and he liked it,” Perry boasted. “That Tenth Amendment that talks about these states, these laboratories of democracy…. The Tenth Amendment that the federal government is limited, its powers are limited by the Constitution.”
It’s easy to understand how the Texan might be confused. Lincoln and Perry share a party label, so the former governor apparently assumes they share a political outlook, too. And given that Lincoln was arguably the nation’s greatest president, it stands to reason that the Texas Republican, like most candidates, would want to associate himself with the Lincoln legacy.
The problem, however, is that Perry has no idea what he’s talking about. Josh Zeitz, who taught American history and politics at Cambridge and Princeton, explained the other day that the former Texas governor “got Lincoln backwards” and Perry’s entire argument “betrays a regrettable ignorance of Lincoln’s political outlook.”
Before he reluctantly became a Republican, Abraham Lincoln was a lifelong Whig – a party founded in opposition to Andrew Jackson and in support of a strong and active central state…. A passionate supporter of Henry Clay’s “American System,” Lincoln believed that states should ultimately be subordinate to a strong federal government, and that Washington had a big role to play in matters as far and wide as internal improvements, currency, banking and taxation. […]
As president, Lincoln vastly expanded the federal government’s role…. Maybe Rick Perry spent too much time reading from those widely disputed history and government standards that the Texas Board of Education, in its infinite wisdom, foisted on textbook publishers. Whatever the cause, he’s confusing Abraham Lincoln – erstwhile Whig and promoter of a strong central government – for a strict Tenth Amendment devotee. That, he certainly was not.
In 2009, the then-governor was so eager to show his contempt for President Obama that Perry denounced the United States government as “oppressive,” arguing that it was “time to draw the line in the sand and tell Washington that no longer are we going to accept their oppressive hand in the state of Texas.” Soon after, he said he doesn’t want to “dissolve” the union of the United States, “But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that.”
Around the same time, Perry said of Texas, “[W]hen we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation. And one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”
I won’t pretend to be a Lincoln scholar, but I’m comfortable describing the iconic American president as someone who wasn’t comfortable with the idea of state secession.
All of this must be terribly inconvenient for Republicans. Lincoln believed in a strong federal government, a progressive income tax, and considerable infrastructure investments, making him sound an awful lot like a Democrat by 21st-century standards. Indeed, some conservatives who’ve read up on Lincoln see him as something of an enemy – Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) co-wrote a book with a neo-Confederate who boasted that he raises “a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s birthday.”
Perry may want to take Lincoln back as some kind of conservative hero, but he’ll have to ignore literally every historical detail to make the case to unsuspecting voters.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 17, 2015