With the Jade Helm operation beginning this week, we thought we would resurface this explained post from a couple months back. Enjoy!

Like many of the rational residents of the United States, we have been amused to watch the emergence of the conspiracy theory known as Jade Helm 15. If you are one of the rational residents of the country but have not heard of Jade Helm, it is the sweeping theory that an upcoming eight-week military exercise stretching across the Southwest is actually a secret plot by the Obama administration to seize land / oust traitors / otherwise be evil. If you are one of the irrational residents of the United States, you are not reading this because the tin foil hat slipped over your eyes and / or you are too busy eating Vietnam-era MREs.

And the moment being what it is, this is now part of the 2016 election.

Jade Helm (the military exercise) is a real thing. In press releases, it's called "routine training," but on a grand scale. Why so big? "The diverse terrain in these states," the press release reads, "replicates areas Special Operations Soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas." The map below shows the location of parts of the exercise, with Utah and Texas identified as "hostile."


Jade Helm (the conspiracy theory) centers on that "hostile" designation. A full background is here, but a quick outline is in order. One of the first fleshed-out conspiracy arguments appeared at All News Pipeline in March. The idea there was that this was an American response to the imminent start of World War III, since "drills are always the way that operations are designed to position men and materials ahead of an operation." It is suggested that actually they're going to murder gun owners after having collected their GPS coordinates, and something about attacking churches. (If you don't want to read the story, it is read out loud here for some reason.) Since then, various other things have been looped in, including that Walmart stores have been closed at night so that tunnels could be dug underneath them. Or ... something.

The theory above worked its way over to Infowars.com, the conspiracy site that somehow nudged its way into some semblance of respectability in conservative circles, perhaps in part thanks to regular inclusion in round-ups at The Drudge Report. Fears of Jade Helm overlap heavily with existing concerns on the right, including general distrust of the Obama administration and past comments about homegrown terrorists.

Interest peaked when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) late last month ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the exercises. Bloomberg's Dave Weigel asked presidential candidate Ted Cruz about it, with the Texas senator replying that he could "understand" why people were worried about it. (Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who's built a fan base in part on his willingness to explore such topics, said something similar this week.) Cruz also indicated that he had asked the Pentagon to assuage his concerns and came away satisfied.

On Tuesday, former Texas governor and likely 2016 candidate Rick Perry criticized Abbott, his former No. 2. "It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis," he told the Dallas Morning News. "But the military is something else. Our military is quite trustworthy. The civilian leadership -- you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform."

The irony at play? The page of the Jade Helm planning document that appears after the map is titled "Why Texas?" It reads:


Or so they thought. The military is obviously annoyed by the response and having to answer questions like one from a Utah Fox station: "The 'hostile' label was part of the exercise design. It is fictional and is not intended to represent any belief that the state of Utah is hostile." Well, at least the government didn't used to consider Utah hostile.

But what's a politician to do? Politics is the art of balancing the needs and concerns of various constituencies. There's a real thread of concern among conservative voters about an unprecedented action in their area. That concern has been given oxygen by the bellows of Infowars and now becomes something to be addressed. The trick with conspiracy theories is that dismissing them often only reinforces them, so Abbott decided to walk a middle line. Reality is one thing; politics is another.

It's hard to believe that this will continue to roil until August, when the exercises are scheduled to end; by the time 2016 voting rolls around, this will be the 300th of 2.6 million footnotes to the campaign. At that point, though, many of the primary contests will have been decided, given that the Southwestern State of Obamaland will be under the secure control of the Armies of the Democratic Party.

Wake up, sheeple.

The Army says the size and scope of Jade Helm 15, a Special Operations exercise that begins in July, set it apart from other training exercises. Also setting it apart: The widespread conspiracy theories that the U.S. is preparing to hatch martial law. The Post's Dan Lamothe explains. (Tom LeGro/The Washington Post)