“If you haven’t heard about Operation Jade Helm 15, you need to,” says noted actor, martial artist and Internet meme Chuck Norris.
It’s a training exercise planned for this summer involving four branches of the military and seven southwest states. According to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the operation is routine (though extensive) and will have little to no impact on civilians.
But Norris, and a handful of of other conspiracy-minded critics of President Barack Obama, don’t buy it. And Norris doesn’t think you should either.
“The U.S. government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise.’ But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it,” Norris wrote in his column for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily Monday.
“It’s neither over-reactionary nor conspiratorial to call into question or ask for transparency about Jade Helm 15 or any other government activity,” he continued. “To those who merely think we should check our brains at the door of the White House and trust what the government does, I would reiterate to you the words of one of our government’s primary founders, Benjamin Franklin, who said, ‘Distrust and caution are the parents of security.'”
Norris isn’t the only person who is suspicious of the operation, aimed at training special forces for fighting on similar terrain overseas. Particularly in Texas, which has been labeled “hostile” territory in the simulation, the exercise has been the target of scrutiny and wild speculation. The most tempered critics worry it could affect locals’ daily lives. The more conspiratorial ones say it’s laying the groundwork for a military takeover, never mind a history of similar exercises that did not engender such scary rhetoric and did not, as it happened, lead to martial law.
— Liberty's Specter (@libertysspecter) April 27, 2015
— Linda (@Linnlondon1) April 26, 2015
— Bird (@suegrant54321) April 25, 2015
In his column, Norris doesn’t claim outright that Jade Helm 15 is really a cover-up for a military takeover. But he does believe there’s more to the operation than officials have admitted.
“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,” he wrote. “… We must never check our brains or blindly trust, especially the government. Rather, we must fight until our dying breaths for liberty, especially when it appears those in power are trying to knock down Old Glory.”
According to a map (which Army sources verified to The Washington Post is legitimate) included among unclassified documents about the operation posted online in March, Texas is one of three regions labeled “hostile” for the sake of the simulation.
— Checkpoint (@CheckpointWP) March 31, 2015
The belief that Jade Helm 15 is part of a vast conspiracy to institute martial law has percolated online for more than a month, ever since the operation was reported in March. But the rumors — which range from a theory that the exercise is a rehearsal for FEMA camp incarcerations to speculation that 5 recently shuttered Wal-Marts are somehow involved — gained traction last week when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, asked the state guard to monitor federal troops during the operation.
“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote in a letter to Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty of the Texas State Guard.
On Saturday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) became the first presidential candidate to offer an opinion on the matter.
“My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise,” Cruz told Bloomberg. “We are assured it is a military training exercise. I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because 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.”
Officials have repeatedly pushed back against the rumors: “Jade Helm is a long planned and coordinated exercise,” Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steve Warren told CNN Monday. “We are not taking over anything.”
But those assurances haven’t gained much traction among those who are convinced that the government can’t be trusted.
At an information session in Bastrop, Texas, which will host a portion of the exercise, command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria assured residents that the military presence would consist of just 60 soldiers, two Humvees and a water buffalo, according to KXAN. The entire exercise will take place on fenced-in private property voluntarily leased to the military by the landowner. Troops will be role playing and conducting one nighttime helicopter flight, he said, but nothing more.
“This is not a preparation for martial law,” Lastoria told one critic at the meeting last week.
“That’s what you say,” the man responded.
Speaking to Houston TV station KHOU after the meeting, Lastoria seemed frustrated that his audience wouldn’t take him at his word.
“They really want this to be a greater conspiracy,” he said. “And in reality, all we want to do is be sure our guys are trained for combat overseas. That’s it.”