The Pentagon has no plans to stage a military takeover of the Lone Star state. There are no tunnels covertly being constructed under West Texas' shuttered Wal-Mart stores. So why are the fringes of the Internet still abuzz with rumors that the U.S. military is on the cusp of imposing martial law in "hostile" Texas under the guise of a training exercise dubbed "Jade Helm 15"?
Representatives of the military and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), whose state is expected to host part of the planned training exercise, have sought to tamp down speculation that "Jade Helm 15" is anything other than a standard training exercise.
But a slew of other influential figures in conservative circles have either deliberately or inadvertently given credence to those who buy into the wild conspiracy theories surrounding the upcoming exercise. Here's a look at who's been stoking the fire:
- Texas Governor Greg Abbott: Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott brought “Jade Helm 15” out of the shadows of the right-wing fringe and into the light of the national media when he asked the State Guard to monitor the operation so that “Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
- Former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX): "I'm not at the point where I think this is the first step and six months from now you're gonna have see martial law all around the country and I sure hope I'm right on that,” the former congressman said. But that didn’t stop him from speculating that the U.S. military is training to “enhance the empire” overseas. The inclination to dig deeper apparently runs in the family, too. The former congressman's son, Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, told an Iowa-based radio host last month that while he wasn't familiar with "Jade Helm 15" he'd "look into" the planned training exercise.
- Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX): Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz told Bloomberg Politics that he reached out directly to the Pentagon about “Jade Helm 15” and was assured the operation really was nothing more than a training exercise. That said, Cruz still validated conspiracy theorists’ concern. “I think part of the reason is, we have seen for six years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens and that produces fear,” Cruz said. “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."
- Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX): Tea party darling Louie Gohmert on Tuesday went the furthest of any elected official so far in addressing the concerns of people who are suspicious of "Jade Helm 15." In a statement, Gohmert criticized the military's labeling of Texas as "hostile" for the purposes of the training exercise as "callous and suspicious." "The map of the exercise needs to change, the names on the map need to change, and the tone of the exercise needs to be completely revamped so the federal government is not intentionally practicing war against its own states," the congressman demanded.
- Former Governor Rick Perry (R-TX): Aspiring Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry left the door open on Tuesday for Texans to question the federal government about the planned training exercise. "I think it's OK to question your government — I do it on a pretty regular basis. The military's something else," Perry told reporters at an event in Dallas, according to The Texas Tribune. That's a similar tack to the one his former lieutenant governor David Dewhurst took in a Dallas Morning News op-ed last week: that men and women in uniform must be above suspicion. But Perry suggested that it was perfectly legitimate to question the intentions of "civilian leadership."