Three years ago, Texas’ Republican leaders were more than willing to pander to conspiracy theories regarding the prospect of the Obama White House sending troops into the state.
But suddenly, with President Donald Trump’s announcement this week that he would be shipping 5,000 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border — a political stunt designed to whip up his racist base — that fear seems to have vanished, replaced by full-throated support instead.
I’m old enough to remember when conservatives swore a president moving US soldiers around Texas for exercises was a prelude to martial law
— Adam Weinstein (@AdamWeinstein) October 30, 2018
The 2015 U.S. military training maneuvers, dubbed Jade Helm, weren’t even half the size of Trump’s current operation. Jade Helm spanned a handful of states, including Texas, and focused on training U.S. forces in assorted exercises.
Several of Texas’ top elected officials at the time, all of whom remain in power, decried the training mission as little more than cover for an Obama administration bent on imposing martial law.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said Jade Helm was clearly an affront to Texas, claiming the exercise had apparently made people “become suspicious of whether their big brother government anticipates certain states may start another civil war.” (As part of the exercise, Texas, Utah, and a stretch of southern California were labeled as “Hostile.”)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) seemed to believe the claims that Jade Helm could lead to an Obama-led autocracy were well-founded. “When the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying,” Cruz said.
And then, of course, there’s Gov. Greg Abbott (R). In one of the most hilarious — and conspiratorial — moments of the entire exercise, Abbott announced that he would order the Texas State Guard to monitor the operations. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” Abbott said at the time. (“Really? You think that, like, the entire Pentagon said, ‘Oh really, you want to declare martial law, take over Texas, let’s do it under the guise of routine training missions’?”, Obama later responded.)
One of Abbott’s Republican colleagues, former state Rep. Todd Smith, made sure to point out to Abbott that he was “pandering to idiots.” Those “idiots,” though, weren’t a small minority. As a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found, a plurality of registered voters in Texas — nearly 40 percent of those polled — agreed with Abbott’s move. Twenty-eight percent disagreed, while 32 percent weren’t sure. Unsurprisingly, the more conservative the Texan polled, the higher the likelihood they would support Abbott’s decision to deploy the Texas State Guard.
A trio of men in North Carolina even decided that Jade Helm was such a clear cover for dictatorship that they plotted to bomb American soldiers in defense against the impending takeover. The men were arrested before they could carry out their plan, but their arsenal included “dozens of guns, military-issue Kevlar helmets, body armor vests and handheld radios with throat microphones.”
The conspiracy theory was naturally amplified by far-right outlets, such as InfoWars. But the American conspiracy theorists had help from abroad. Not only did a host on RT, the Russian propaganda outlet, proclaim that the exercise was a clear sign of impending civil war, but we now know that a number of fake Russian Twitter accounts pumped out a number of Jade Helm-related conspiracies. As one tweeted out, misspellings and all, “Jade helm is a exercise for Marshall law Trust me.”
“Heart of Texas,” the second-most popular fake Russian Facebook page, made sure to remind followers that Jade Helm was meant to target conservatives and to impose a dictatorship upon Texas. Obama “actually considers imposing martial law on us,” the page claimed. (One of the accounts named in law month’s indictment against Russian social media interference highlighted a new fake Russian account: @TXCowboysRawk.)
Fast forward three years and Obama has been replaced with the foremost conspiracy theorist in the country — one who has no problem spouting the same types of conspiracies that enraged the man charged with killing 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Once again, an American president has announced that he would be sending a substantial number of American troops to Texas, albeit this time for an entirely manufactured “crisis” that exists only in the minds of the Trump and his far-right supporters. More than that, his administration has refused to rule out suspending habeas corpus as part of the operation.
But those same Texas politicians who were worried about martial law just a few years ago don’t seem to mind. Gohmert praised the move. Cruz welcomed the announcement. And Abbott commended Trump’s decision, embracing the sudden influx of active-duty troops with open arms.
All it took, apparently, was for a Republican president to ship troops to Texas, rather than a Democrat many of the Texas politicians despised, and for the White House to nakedly try to gin up concerns about a so-called “caravan” of non-white migrants streaming toward the U.S. border. So much for a redux of Jade Helm, and so much for consistency when it comes to conspiracies.