U.S. Special Operations Command is preparing to launch a months long, multi-state exercise across private and public land to prepare Army special forces for threats anywhere in the world. Or at least that’s what the Pentagon would want you to believe. Officials and citizens in Texas, one of the states involved, see something potentially more nefarious in the exercise, dubbed Jade Helm 15. And now Rep. Louie Gohmert is joining them.
“Over the past few weeks, my office has been inundated with calls referring to the Jade Helm 15 military exercise scheduled to take place between July 15 and September 15, 2015,” Gohmert said in a Tuesday statement. “This military practice has some concerned that the U.S. Army is preparing for modern-day martial law. Certainly, I can understand these concerns.”
“When leaders within the current administration believe that major threats to the country include those who support the Constitution, are military veterans, or even ‘cling to guns or religion,’ patriotic Americans have reason to be concerned,” Gohmert wrote.
The congressman took particular issue with the layout and labels of the Pentagon map for the exercise. “Once I observed the map depicting ‘hostile,’ ‘permissive,’ and ‘uncertain’ states and locations, I 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.” Gohmert called on the Pentagon to change the map, the names on the map, and said “the tone of the exercise needs to be completely revamped so the federal government is not intentionally practicing war against its own states.”
The Pentagon has insisted that claims that Jade Helm is anything other than a military exercise—and one that it says would have in-state economic benefits—are completely bunk.
“Jade Helm is a long planned and coordinated exercise,” a Pentagon spokesman told CNN. “We are not taking over anything.”
But that hasn’t quelled concern. In late April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent an open letter to the Texas State Guard asking it to keep a tight watch on the exercise. “During the training operation,” Abbott wrote, “it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights, and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
On Monday, Abbott defended the letter, saying that his office is “playing a pivotal role of government and that is to provide information to people who have questions.”
Over the weekend, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz told Bloomberg that his Senate office “has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise,” saying he has “no reason to doubt [the Pentagon’s] assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty.”
There has been plenty more concern from Texans around the state, egged on in part by conspiracy-driven sites such as InfoWars, as well as minor celebrities. “Whether deterrence, display of power, or something more covert or devious, let’s not come with any patronizing nonsense of impotence and simplicity when its origin is in Washington,” writes martial-arts icon Chuck Norris.
Former Texas governor and potential repeat presidential candidate Rick Perry, though, thinks Abbott has gone too far. “It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis,” Perry said Tuesday. “But the military is something else.”
The Pentagon only has so many more ways of saying, “trust us—not Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the length of the Jade Helm exercise. It is planned to run from July 15 through September 15.