Concerns from citizens prompted the governor of Texas to ask his state's the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on a U.S. military exercise, one that some fringe websites regard as preparation to invade Texas and other states to institute martial law in a coup or rebellion.
Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas State Guard — separate from the National Guard also under his control — to monitor Operation Jade Helm 15 to protect residents' safety as well as property and constitutional rights.
The military says it's just a training exercise, and many disregarded the connections to impending martial law made by some websites as a conspiracy theory.
The governor's office downplayed the move, saying it fell in line with the state guard's standard responsibility of acting as a liaison when federal military deploys in Texas for any reason.
"U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has assured Texas that each location selected for training exercises will pose no risk to residents or property and that they will coordinate with local residents via verbal and written communication," Abbott wrote in his letter to Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty, commander of the Texas State Guard.
Some websites paraded a PowerPoint presentation — marked unclassified — as evidence that Army Special Operations Command was training to suppress American rebels in a coming military coup or civil war.
Army Special Operations Command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria again told Army Times that the rumors had no basis. He said the biggest inconveniences from the exercise would be noise from helicopters and soldiers in Humvees coming into town for supplies.
Any use of private land, he said, has already been coordinated.
As for the Texas Guard monitoring, Army officers have been going to Texas towns, many of them rural, to explain the exercises. One video posted by the Austin American-Statesman shows a meeting in Bastrop, Texas. After a presentation by Lastoria, a resident asked local leaders to reverse their invitation to the military and generated applause, telling them: "I don't believe a single word that he just said."
The labeling of Texas as hostile in the presentation ignited concerns among some conspiracy websites and some residents that the state's libertarian, pro-gun and patriotic leanings make it a target for the federal government — and that the labeling was not just an arbitrary simulation.
Arizona, a conservative-leaning state, is labeled "uncertain, leaning friendly," while more liberal Southern California is "hostile." The governor of another "hostile" state, Utah, has said Jade Helm is a standard training exercise and that he's been assured inconveniences will be minimal.
Lastoria told residents that people are wanting the exercise to be something it's not.
"You may have issues with the federal government, you may have issues with this administration, but this institution right here (the Army) has been with you for over 240 years," Lastoria said to Bastrop residents, who applauded the commentline. "This is not a preparation for martial law. All we want to do is make sure our guys are trained for combat overseas. That's it."
The presentation says Texas was chosen as a hub because of a low population density, and military-friendly history. Abbott also stressed the state's history of military cooperation as well as his own patriotism and appreciation for the U.S. military in his letter.
State Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Joanne MacGregor said in a statement that the guard's role would be "to expedite the flow of information and facilitate communication between the Office of the Governor in order to alleviate any possible public concerns."
The upside, she said in a clarifying email, was in utilizing Betty and the guard he commands for the governor as Abbott's designated representative for the exercise.
"They understand military operations as well as what details of the exercise are important to communicate locally in Texas communities," MacGregor wrote of Betty and the guard.
Theories have tied in elements beyond the slides depicting the exercise. "FEMA death domes" — purportedly being built as detention hubs for detained American insurgents — had already been absorbed into tacked onto the martial law/coup conspiracy theory.
Some have now implicated Walmart in the plot, citing the retailer's sudden temporary closure of five of its more than 4,000 U.S. stores, including two in Texas. As noted Wednesday by Texas Monthly, some theorize the mega?stores are being appropriated by the government for use as bases during martial law.
No tangible links between the closures and the military have been established, and Lastoria said the Walmart closings had nothing to do with Jade Helm or any military operation.
The company cites plumbing repairs at the stores during the six-month closure.
s, claiming each location had 100-150 plumbing issues a year. None of the cities pulled any plumbing permits,according to a Tampa ABC affiliate investigation
. One in Midland, Texas, had 70 plumbing fixtures replaced a few years ago, with the store remaining open during repairs.
Others have suggested they are retaliation for demands by workers for better pay and benefits. The closed Pico Rivera, California, storehas been a particular hotbed for activism
, and protests have marked some of the other closed locations.