The Pentagon had to go public this week with an unusual admission that, no, it was not in fact secretly planning to take over the state of Texas.
It was the result of a building controversy inside the Lone Star State leading up to a series of planned military training exercises dubbed "Jade Helm 15."
But now, with several politicians and even actor Chuck Norris jumping in the fray, it’s raising more questions about the exercise, and what is fueling the theories surrounding it.
What exactly is Jade Helm 15?
According to the U.S. Army website, Jade Helm is a multi-state training exercise taking place July 15 through Sept. 15 with members of U.S. Army Special Operations Command and service members from the military’s four branches. While the exercise is taking place across seven states, the Special Operations Forces are only training in five states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
But the exercises will take place primarily in Texas, according to the unclassified request for training from Special Operations Command, because it requires large areas of undeveloped land as well as access to towns.
The U.S. military is consistently conducting training exercises inside the U.S., both in remote areas and sometimes inside populated cities. And it’s certainly not the first military exercise to occur inside the state of Texas.
So what, if anything, sets Jade Helm 15 apart?
In a March 24 press release from the Army, Jade Helm 15 was described simply as a “routine training exercise to maintain a high level of readiness.” The reason given for picking out the particular states, including Texas, is because each possesses a “unique terrain” that soldiers might find themselves operating in overseas.
But also in the same press release, the Army specifically notes Jade Helm 15 being separate from the pack, noting it for its “size and scope.” It led to several citizens raising their eyebrows over the idea of a surge of federal presence inside the state.
What’s the theory behind Jade Helm 15?
After an unclassified military Power Point presentation was posted online describing the exercise, various right-wing and libertarian-leaning bloggers noticed what they considered to be an alarming red flag.
Of the seven states included in the exercise, Texas and Utah were labeled according to a map’s legend as “hostile” territories (as well as a southern pocket of California.) It prompted a barrage of posts from sites claiming it as proof the government was initiating the first stages of martial law inside the U.S.
It’s not the first time such theories have gained traction on the Internet. In January 2013, the U.S. Army conducted operations inside Houston and Miami. The pictures of Black Hawk helicopters and soldiers in fatigues running around metropolitan areas spurred social media posts claiming a government takeover was underway.
Why is Jade Helm gaining such notoriety?
ABC’s Austin affiliate KVUE attended a meeting in Texas’ Bastrop County that featured several citizens voicing their concerns over the planned exercise to Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria.
As Lastoria tried to explain the logistics of the exercise and ease the community’s concerns, several in the room shouted their disapproval and demanded answers as to whether Jade Helm was a secret plan to implement martial law or federal takeover of the state.
Lastoria said that a private landowner in Bastrop County reached out to the Army to offer up their land for the exercise.
Following the contentious meeting, Texas’ new Gov. Greg Abbott stepped in by calling on the State Guard to monitor Jade Helm, explaining “it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
This past week, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert released a statement saying he understood the concerns raised by his constituents. He even went further, bringing up the unclassified map in the Power Point, saying he was “rather appalled that the hostile areas amazingly have a Republican majority, ‘cling to their guns and religion,’ and believe in the sanctity of the United States Constitution.”
The ordeal even found its way inside the 2016 presidential race after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Bloomberg News he also understood the “reason for concern,” and that his office had reached out to the Pentagon to “inquire about this exercise.”
Is Texas in danger of military occupation?
With regards to the map, The Washington Post points out that it’s not the first time a U.S. military exercise has labeled a U.S. region “hostile.” A naval exercise called "Bold Alligator" centered around preventing insurgent groups from launching attacks out of Georgia and part of Florida.
Several Texas politicians on both the left and right have lashed out against what they are labeling as the legitimization of a conspiracy theory, including Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who according to The New York Times said fellow members of Congress were “appalled” that Abbott asked a state body to supervise a military exercise.
Greg Abbott has embarrassed Texas by treating the U.S. Army as a suspect, a threat to the people of our state. It dishonors TX Army vets.— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) May 1, 2015
Texas Republican and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mack Thornberry told the Dallas Morning News that the idea of the American military acting as President Obama’s “private army” was “just silly.”
The chatter also spurred a segment on The Daily Show last week, where Jon Stewart dismissed those spreading the theories as “Lone Star lunatics.”
Defense Secretary Ash Carter acknowledged the controversy on Thursday, and when asked whether the U.S. military was planning to take over Texas, he smiled, saying “No.”