Certain Texans do get wrapped around the axle pretty tight. That happens when they get the idea that the government is about to confiscate their guns, or declare martial law and send troops to occupy the streets in the dark of night.
One word for it is paranoia. Central Texas has been dealing with an outbreak, stemming from military training maneuvers planned in several counties for Special Ops troops. The exercises have a mysterious sounding code name — Operation Jade Helm 15 — the mention of which was sure to push some jittery civilians over the edge.
After a community meeting in Bastrop, called by the county judge, one man worried about the second coming of Nazi Germany.
Ah, Texas. What are you going to do?
Here’s what not to do: give credence to wacky conspiracy theories.
Gov. Greg Abbott crossed the line and did just that with his order last week telling Texas State Guard officials to “monitor” the U.S. military exercises.
To which we say: Really, governor?
It wasn’t an awful idea to address rampant fears, but Abbott has put the state in a bizarre trust-but-verify posture toward this country’s own military.
There were better ways that Abbott might have handled this fuss without responding so overtly to Internet fearmongers. What’s called for is a voice of calm and reason. Measured words, not words that professional conspiracy nuts can twist to serve their own mercenary purposes.
Abbott might reap minor political dividends from his order; after all, his Republican Party has characters on the right fringe of the right wing who are prone to believe some strange stuff. The governor’s order sends them a sly message about having their backs. Those few votes could come back and help him come election time.
But there’s a far bigger downside: the message that Main Street USA gets about the Lone Star State’s new governor. Texas just said goodbye to Rick Perry, who developed a reputation as a governor ready to secede from the Union. Now in only his fourth month, Abbott looks like he wants a chunk of that us-against-Washington action. His order last week asked for regular reports on federal soldiers so Texans can be sure their safety, rights and liberties “will not be infringed.”
Those are cringe-worthy words to appear over the governor’s signature.
Abbott could point to other parts of his order — the predictable ones about the long Texas tradition of respecting the military and honoring the brave men and women who sacrifice to keep us free.
Those don’t overshadow his overall message that someone needs to keep an eye on those brave men and women as long as they’re training in Texas.
Be not afraid
The Austin American-Statesman conducted an online Q&A with military analyst Paul Floyd of Stratfor, an Austin-based global intelligence advisory firm, about training exercises the military is holding in Central Texas. Here are excerpts:
Paul, can you tell us what Jade Helm 15 is?
Jade Helm is an exercise being conducted by Special Operations Command over the summer. It is designed to be as realistic as possible, allowing these units to train in similar environments to where they might be fighting in the future overseas.
Can you tell us more about the nature of the exercises? Logistics? Weapons training? Physical training?
They are designed for all of the above. Any military operation involves all of these elements to execute in order to be successful. A realistic exercise will do the same. In this case, Special Operations soldiers will be focusing on unconventional warfare. This is the type of warfare that is outside the pitched battles of conventional fighting utilizing small specially trained units.
How typical is it for the military to conduct exercises among civilian populations?
It is relatively common. The military, despite all of its resources, can only replicate so many different scenarios. In order to cover a full spectrum of environments and eventualities, the military likes to use the unique environments that can be found in civilian areas sometimes.
People are very uncomfortable about this. Should they be?
No. The military is being public about its intentions and interfacing with local communities at various levels to both keep the public informed and deconflict potential safety issues.