The U.S. military began its secretive two-month, seven-state military exercise on Wednesday in Texas, as conspiracy theorists prepared for the worst.
The massive scale of the operation raised suspicions among right wing groups, many of whom fear the imminent imposition of martial law.
‘Jade Helm 15’, as the war simulation is known, is acknowledged by the Army as unique given its size and scope, but they insist there is nothing to fear.
Parts of Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Utah, were selected for the operation as their topography is ideal to replicate diverse foreign combat zones.
However, suspicions intensified after some conservative political websites seized on an Army map that labeled Texas and Utah as ‘hostile’ for the purposes of the simulation.
What should have been a routine training exercise has since spawned bizarre conspiracy theories concerning a Federal invasion of Texas, gun seizures, mass arrests, shuttered Wal-Marts being turned into internment camps and giant secret tunnels crisscrossing the country.
Texas Governor Gregg Abbott’s office was flooded with calls from fearful constituents.
Fears spilled into public view in April when about 200 people packed a community meeting in Bastrop County, Texas, and questioned an Army commander about whether martial law was imminent.
Despite the geographic range of the exercise, only 1,200 troops will be involved.
Ironically, Texas was chosen because historically Texans are ‘supportive of efforts to prepare our soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors to fight the enemies of the United States’.
Nevertheless, groups have formed to monitor the military’s activities.
On Wednesday, as the training exercise began, Eric Johnston, a retired Arizona sheriff’s deputy and the Texas organizer of a national group called Counter Jade Helm, wore his handgun on his hip as he monitored activity near Bastrop.
Johnston admits that he does not really believe the soldiers are coming to take his gun away, but nevertheless he is ready.
‘I would like to think that if the situation were to turn afoul, many more of our people would stand up and come to assist.’
Johnston, who has a white handlebar mustache and conceals his gun beneath his untucked shirt, has 27 volunteers — some armed— positioned across Texas.
Among their number is a monitor he described as a retired Army ranger. He also described their role as that of a neighborhood watch.
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