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“Perry To Texas; Stop Being Insane”: Buckle Up Guys, 2016 Is Going To Be Nuts

An Infowars conspiracy theory about military takeover of the American Southwest might become a surprising wedge issue among Texas’s Republican presidential candidates.

The Daily Beast detailed last week how the Jade Helm 15 military training exercises—wherein U.S. Special Operations forces will move throughout the Southwest preparing for atypical warfare conditions—have set off such a noisy panic that Texas’s governor has ordered the state’s military to keep an eye on things.

Concerns about those training exercises have been fueled by Alex Jones’s goofball site Infowars, which soberly suggested that this might be the beginning of a military war on the Tea Party. That is not a thing that is happening. Still, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas stated he was directing the Lone Star state’s military to tail U.S. troops in part “to ensure that Texas communities remain safe.” Abbott’s move generated much levity, with one Texas Democrat consultant suggesting that the governor’s next area of concern might be abominable snowmen.

When I was reporting out that story, I reached out to a number of presidential contenders’ camps for comment and got radio silence. Most of the candidates’ spokespeople didn’t even bother to reply to my email, and understandably—who wants to go on the record awkwardly not commenting about a wacky conspiracy theory that has a small but vocal sector of the Republican base buying hollow-tip ammo and investing in survival food?

But a few of those presidential contenders have spoken about the issue to other media outlets, and their answers are quite telling. On April 21, conservative Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson asked Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul if he knew what the deal with Jade Helm was.

“You know I’ve gotten a few questions about it on the road and I really don’t—” Paul replied, per Talking Points Memo’s transcript. “I’m not sure about exactly what is going on with that.”

“It’s making some people nervous, but it doesn’t take much to make people nervous nowadays,” Mickelson replied. “If you get a chance to, I’d like to know what the rest of the story is on that.”

“We’ll look at that also,” the Kentucky senator replied.

Never fear, citizens of the Southwest: Rand Paul is going to make sure the military doesn’t take over your Whataburgers.

Not to be outdone, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican convention that he’d had his office reach out to the Pentagon to make sure everything is OK.

“We are assured it is a military training exercise,” he said. “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.”

Former Texas governor Rick Perry drew the sharpest contrast with Abbott’s Infowars pandering.

“It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis,” he said on May 5, per the Dallas Morning News. “But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership, you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”

Questioning men and women in uniform is exactly what Abbott did, and exactly what Cruz and Paul endorsed. Now, thanks to Infowars and unfounded anxieties, we have an early way of differentiating between some of the most conservative—and, in Perry’s case, potential—presidential candidates. Buckle up, guys. 2016 is going to be nuts.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, May 7, 2015

May 8, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Texas Guv Surrenders To Conspiracy Nuts”: Pandering To Paranoid, Secessionist Fools

Texas’s governor moved this week to protect his state from an Obama-led military takeover.

Governor Greg Abbott, who decisively beat Wendy Davis in the 2014 to take Rick Perry’s job, announced on Tuesday that he’s going to sic the Texas Rangers on the U.S. military.

Not really. But it sure sounds that way.

What’s actually going on is U.S. troops are doing training exercises—called Jade Helm 15—in several states throughout the Southwest, including Texas.

The mission will involve Special Operations forces moving through the Southwest and training for covert missions. A declassified map posted online in March (whose legitimacy The Washington Post confirmed) identified several of those states as “hostile” and “leaning hostile.” That isn’t particularly unusual, as Dan Lamothe explained at The Washington Post, but it has a small number of Texans—including, apparently, the governor—totally freaking out and (arguably) overreacting.

Conspiracy theories about the training exercise have spread through cyberspace with all due speed, as such theories are wont to do.

And, naturally, Alex Jones, of conspiracy theory-touting Infowars fame, is involved.

The Drudge Report aggregated a number of stories about the exercises, directing readers to Infowars—including a March 24 story that said the trainings in Utah and Texas led observers “to fears that traditionally conservative areas may be a simulated target for future domestic operations.”

Yipes!

That story also said “military scholars” have started hypothesizing that such troops “would be used to target political groups such as the Tea Party.”

On March 26, Drudge linked to another InfoWars story suggesting the operations could be preparing for the implementation of martial law, which would certainly be big news indeed.

Those stories and others drew traffic and stoked fears.

On April 27, Raw Story reported that an Army spokesman appeared before a packed crowd at a Bastrop County Commission meeting in Texas to try to quell the citizens’ anxieties.

“The Army spokesman assured participants that the United Nations was not involved in the operations, but the crowd jeered when he told them he was not familiar with Agenda 21,” wrote Travis Gettys on the site.

That little meet ’n’ greet didn’t have its desired effect.

The next day, Abbott announced that he had directed Major General Gerald “Jake” Betty, commander of the Texas State Guard, to monitor Jade Helm 15.

In a letter to Betty, he said he made the move “[t]o address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe.”

The Texas military has three branches, as its website details, including the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard, as well as the Texas State Guard. The governor, in this case, is its commander-in-chief.

And per The Houston Chronicle, it hasn’t completely ironed out all the specific details of how exactly it will monitor the U.S. Army.

Abbott’s decision to err on the side of Alex Jones has drawn a bit of joshing from the left.

“Abbott’s c would be comical if it wasn’t so costly and frightening,” said Glenn Smith, the director of the Progress Texas PAC. “Abbott has the state military confronting the U.S. military because some nutcases fear, what, armed U.S. takeover of Texas? Seriously? What next? Will Abbott call out the troops to protect us from alien abduction, abominable snowmen and Bigfoot, or should I say an invasion of Bigfeet?”

Jason Stanford, a longtime Democratic Texas consultant and member of the Truman National Security Project, said Abbott’s move is great news for conspiracy-mongers everywhere.

“A lot of people think he’s more sensible than this, but he has yet to stop campaigning for a Republican primary that he won virtually unopposed,” he said. “Most Texans aren’t like this.”

That said, Abbott isn’t without defenders. Republican State Representative Jonathan Stickland defended the move enthusiastically and said Texans’ distrust of the Obama administration probably informed his decision. He said that the exercises have caused “justified concern.”

“I don’t want to instill panic,” he added. “I’ll tell you what’s scary is if we get to a place where it’s not normal to question our government or their motives. We should always be questioning government.”

And Matt Mackowiak, a Texas-based Republican consultant, said he would be surprised if Jade Helm 15 was a subversive plot to occupy Texas. But he added that he understands Texans’ concerns.

“It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s false,” he said. “Is every single conspiracy theory wrong? No. Most of them probably are.”

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Greg Abbott, Texas, U. S. Military | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Walmart Is In On It”: The Perils Of Political Paranoia In Texas

In too many parts of the country, what’s true is far less important than what far-right paranoia tells people might be true. Take the latest out of Texas, for example, where the Dallas Morning News published this strange report yesterday.

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. […]

Radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been sending out warnings for weeks regarding the exercise, saying it is the U.S. military positioning itself to take over the states and declare martial law. Abbott apparently has heard the concern and ordered the Guard to monitor the training and U.S. military personnel.

At issue is a military exercise called “Jade Helm 15,” which will reportedly include about 1,200 special operations personnel, including Green Berets and Navy SEALs, conducting training drills throughout the Southwest, from Texas to California.

According to right-wing conspiracy theorists, however, the exercise is a secret scheme to impose martial law. According to the Houston Chronicle, the unhinged activists believe “Walmart is in on it,” and “secret underground tunnels” are somehow involved.

The uproar from the fringe grew loud enough to generate an official response from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, trying to set the public’s mind at ease. It didn’t work – the conspiracy theorists, of course, believe Special Operations Command is on the scheme.

Indeed, every time officials try to explain to the public this is only a training exercise, the right-wing fringe perceives a smokescreen.

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. […]

“You may have issues with the administration. So be it. But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years,” he was quoted as saying. “I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”

But the conspiracy theorists remain unconvinced, choosing to believe fringe online personalities instead.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, then, that Texas’ governor directed state forces to “monitor” the operation, in part to “address concerns of Texas citizens.”

What’s especially interesting to me is the frequency with which the line blurs between elected officials’ concerns and fringe crackpots’ conspiracy theories. Indeed, it was just a couple of months ago that Texas state lawmakers held a hearing about the non-existent threat of the United Nations taking control of the Alamo.

Soon after, legislation was introduced in Tennessee to prohibit “no-go zones” in the Volunteer State, not because they’re real, but because “some people” said they’re afraid of them.

We’ve seen official efforts to combat Sharia law for no reason. We’ve seen repeated policies blocking funding for ACORN, despite the fact that the group doesn’t exist. A few years ago, Texas lawmakers took the possibility of a “NAFTA Superhighway” very seriously, despite the fact that the project existed only in the overactive imaginations of right-wing activists.

There are real policy challenges out there. Public officials would be wise to focus on them and ignore the made-up stuff.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 29, 2015

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Texas, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

“Predisposed To Believing Nonsense”: From The Far-Right Fringe To The Halls Of Congress

Rachel led the show the other night with a look at conspiracy theories, once relegated to the fringes of American politics, now being embraced by growing numbers of conservatives, including elected lawmakers. The segment specifically noted ridiculous theories about the Boston Marathon bombing, spewed by activist Alex Jones, and touted by a GOP lawmaker in New Hampshire.

As best as I can tell, no member of the U.S. Congress has embraced Jones’ Boston-related nonsense, but it’s clear that many federal lawmakers are taking some of his other ideas seriously.

The right wing media’s promotion of a widely-debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) ammunition acquisitions prompted House Republicans to hold a hearing to investigate. The theory, which assigns some sinister motivation behind the recent ammo purchases, first gained traction on the websites of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones before finding its way to Fox News and Fox Business and finally to the halls of Congress.

On April 25, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (OH) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) held a joint hearing “to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General.”

At a distance, if we set aside the bizarre ideology that leads elected officials to believe nonsense, it’s fascinating to watch the trajectory — a fringe activist comes up with an idea, which is then picked up by a more prominent far-right outlet, which is then echoed by Fox News and Fox Business, which is then embraced by some of Congress’ sillier members who are predisposed to believe nonsense, which then leads to a congressional hearing.

This just doesn’t happen on the left. This is not to say there aren’t wacky left-wing conspiracy theorists — there are, and some of them send me strange emails — but we just don’t see prominent, center-left media professionals trumpet such silliness or Democratic members of Congress racing to take the nonsense seriously.

As for the underlying ammunition claim itself, it’s been shown to be baseless. Someone might want to let Jordan and Chaffetz know.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 26, 2013

April 29, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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