WASHINGTON — Spend a few minutes chatting with one of the vocal proponents of a conspiracy theory seeping in from the outer fringes of U.S. politics, and it’s enough to become very, very afraid.
It’s a window into a worldview where malevolent forces are supposedly preparing to seize control of the United States — and its adherents are extremely grateful to Texas politicians for promoting their cause.
The mainstream commentariat is less generous: the prevailing view sees tinfoil-hat-wearing hordes as a sign that crazy has commandeered the bus of American politics.
Jade Helm 15 is a summer-long military exercise across several states, announced by the U.S. government. But one young man who works in the private-security industry sees something far more sinister stirring.
“It’s possibly a precursor to another world war,” said the 26-year-old Virginia native, who asked that his name not be used although it appears all over a popular Jade Helm chat site.
“We’re not sure. We don’t have any evidence.”
He and a posse of like-minded patriots aren’t taking any chances. They’re posting pictures of military vehicles on a Facebook page, documenting each suspicious sighting in the U.S. South.
He fears one of two possible outcomes. One’s a communist takeover. The other, a foreign invasion facilitated by an America-hating president who has no intention of relinquishing power when his term ends in 20 months: “We do believe he is the enemy of the United States,” he says, adding other epithets about the commander-in-chief.
He sees good news, too: there are more than 250 million guns in America and the country’s ready for any invaders — especially if it’s the blue-helmeted troops of the UN.
That the world has now heard of this pernicious plot is thanks, largely, to one man. The rookie governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, put Jade Helm 15 fears on the mainstream map.
The governor asked the Texas State Guard to keep an eye on the federal exercise. With that, the issue promptly catapulted from the fringes of Facebook into the mass media and, inevitably, into the mocking monologues of TV comedians like Jon Stewart.
The governor later explained that he just wanted to ensure civil liberties were protected. But that didn’t spare him from ridicule — and worse.
One former state lawmaker castigated the governor in a letter. He accused him of “pandering to idiots.”
“I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do,” said the letter from Todd Smith, a 16-year Republican lawmaker who lost a 2012 primary.
“I am appalled that you would give credence to the nonsense mouthed by those who instead make decisions based on Internet or radio shock jock driven hysteria.”
A new poll suggests the theory has inched its way toward the mainstream of the Republican movement.
When asked whether the government was planning a takeover of Texas, 32 per cent of self-identified Republican primary voters replied, “Yes.” Forty per cent said no, according to the Public Policy poll of 1,285 respondents. The likeliest to respond in the affirmative were supporters of the presidential candidacies of Sen. Ted Cruz (56 per cent) and ex-governor Rick Perry (76 per cent).
Those least fearful of impending martial law? Supporters of Jeb Bush (18 per cent) and Chris Christie (15 per cent).
Cruz said he doesn’t fear a takeover, but he understands why people wouldn’t trust the federal government. Sen. John Cornyn scheduled a briefing with the Pentagon, and emerged to say there was no cause for alarm.
Action star Chuck Norris also karate-chopped his way into the debate, applauding those who question the federal motives.
The concerns were partly fuelled by a slideshow presentation on the exercise. It said the eight weeks of training would begin July 15 in Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. Soldiers will use less-populated parts of the country to train in unconventional warfare, said the document from U.S. Special Operations Command.
When asked whether he was planning to take over Texas, U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter prompted chuckles from a Washington audience last week with a one-word answer: “No.”
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press