An unclassified document that outlines a US Army training exercise scheduled for this summer includes a color-coded map that refers to Texas as "hostile territory" and calls a portion of California an "insurgent pocket," leading a certain fringe on the internet to claim the exercise is really a dress rehearsal for a government plot to declare martial law.
The training exercise, known as Jade Helm 15, is scheduled to take place between July 15 and September 15 across parts of Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, and will involve Green Berets, Navy SEALs, and other Special Ops forces. The uproar is over a slideshow presentation that outlines the effects the exercises might have on local populations. The US Army would not confirm the legitimacy of the document.
On the Sleuth Journal, a website that describes itself as an independent alternative media organization and also sells "preparedness and survival items," author Dave Hodges said the drill was actually about "the brutal martial subjugation of the people of Texas, Utah and Southern California who have risen up against some unspecified tyranny."
"A careful analysis reveals how this drill is connected to Army policies associated with the confinement of detainees in what is commonly called FEMA camps!" Hodge wrote, describing a conspiracy theory in which the government imprisons citizens in FEMA disaster camps. "This drill is undoubtedly the most frightening thing to occur on American soil since the Civil War."
Related: The Special Ops Olympics: War Games
Infowars, the conspiracy-minded site founded by Alex Jones, also published a story on Jade Helm 15, calling it a plan for the "brutal martial law takeover of America [that] labels Texas and Utah as 'hostile' states due to their strong cultural identities."
Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, a spokesman for the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) told Stars and Stripes, the exercise is actually "routine training to maintain a high level of readiness for Army Special Operations Forces because they must be ready to support potential missions anywhere in the world on a moment's notice."
'This drill is undoubtedly the most frightening thing to occur on American soil since the Civil War.'
Lastoria said the conspiracy theories were "proposed by a few individuals who are unfamiliar with how and why USASOC conducts training exercises."
He declined to provide details about the exercise to VICE News, but said that USASOC would "publish press and news releases regarding this training exercise as it moves through the development process."
The US government has been accused of using military training exercises as a cover for more nefarious activities several times in the past. Most recently, many of the same outlets concerned about Jade Helm 15 grew suspicious when the US military conducted joint training with a small number of Russian troops on US land in 2012.
"If you are consistently looking for evidence of the imminent imposition of something like this, then everything that comes up, whether it's gun control law or some thing else, it provides more fodder for people, Mark Fenster, a law professor at the University of Florida and author of the book Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. "There have always been and will always be a strata of public opinion that holds that the government is out to get us."
Related: What the world's largest naval exercise reveals about modern-day warfare
Paul Floyd, a former Army Ranger and senior military analyst at the global intelligence and advisory firm Stratfor, called the theory "ludicrous," and told VICE News that US soldiers would likely be unwilling to ever institute martial law on their fellow citizens.
"Every person I worked for in the military took an oath to defend the constitution, so without any pretext or serious reason to do so, imposing martial law in places where soldiers are from would absolutely generate blowback," Floyd said.
Floyd recalled training to be an Army Ranger and conducting exercises in Georgia and Florida where soldiers labeled territory in those states as hostile or friendly.
"The correlation has nothing to do with the political affiliation of any given state," he said. "They do these exercises all the time, it's directly related to their job, that's what all parts of the military do."
Floyd also noted that it's cheaper and more practical to prepare for international missions by training in the US. The exercises typically occur away from civilian areas, and often take place on terrain similar to what troops can expect to find overseas.
"This training will happen around areas where people live but it won't be exactly where they live, and they will likely try to focus on keeping to the training installation," he said. "These exercises are designed to work on the core skills of units. They're not very secretive, they're not mission specific. They're core skills we need to have.
Related: French experts try to kill conspiracy theory that says Yasser Arafat was poisoned
"The main takeaway here is all about realism for soldiers and making the US military as competent as it can be," Floyd added.
While the Army has not released detailed information on the Jade Helm 15 exercises, Fenster said increased transparency probably wouldn't change the minds of conspiracy theorists anyway.
"The real problem the government has and anyone who is implicated in a conspiracy theory has is that you can't actually respond to them in a way that has much effect," he said. "When you say you're not part of conspiracy they say of course you would say that and you bring more light to the conspiracy theory itself."
Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen
Photo via Wikimedia Commons