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People in the Southwest have been stocking up on ammo these days, readying themselves for a fight in case President Obama decides to impose martial law. This is standard for doomsday preppers, but this week, the threat became just a little bit more real. That's because something called Jade Helm 15 started on Wednesday, and it isn't expected to be over until the middle of September. So according to the New York Times, some citizens of Christoval, Texas, have piled up as many as 20,000 rounds, preparing for all-out war.
So far, their fears haven't panned out. But it would still be great if someone would tell us what the hell Jade Helm 15 is.
We do know it's some kind of military training exercise, and that will take place for two months across at least seven states. In a statement Monday, the US Army assured us that "the public can expect little disruption in their day-to-day activities since much of the exercise will be conducted in remote areas." It will involve about 1,200 military personnel, mostly from the Army, but also some from special operations forces units in the Navy, Marines, and Air Force.
Army spokesman Mark Lastoria told the Texas Tribune that troops will be spread out over a multi-state area and that 700 of the servicemen will only join in for five days at Camp Bullis in San Antonio. What exactly those 700 troops will be doing there, however, is still unclear.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott went on TV last week ostensibly to calm people down, saying, "We have the greatest assurances that these are normal military operations. They're going to work out just fine." That's a change in tone for the governor, who in April, after getting wind of his constituents' worries about the exercise—mostly that Obama would use Jade Helm to seize everyone's guns—directed the Texas State Guard to monitor the military's operations in his state.
Abbott seemed to be suggesting that the Texas State Guard was getting ready to train their guns on the US Army, lest Uncle Sam pull any funny business. And that's when the media coverage really picked up. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest even had to address the controversy during a press conference this spring, saying that "in no way will the constitutional rights or civil liberties of any American citizen be infringed upon while this exercise is being conducted."
As paranoia reached a fever pitch, Abbott started easing up on the hysterics, claiming in May that he was "serving as a communication facilitator between the Special Operations Forces and the people of the state of Texas and nothing more than that."
The truth is, there is precedent for large-scale training exercises in the homeland, although while some seem to follow the same woman's-name-plus-random-noun naming convention, none of them have been quite this large. And they haven't always gone off well in the past.
Another Army exercise, called Robin Sage, has been conducted in the small towns and rural wilderness of North Carolina since the 1970s, by ROTC cadets trying to earn the Green Beret. In a horrifying incident in 2002, however, a sheriff's deputy shot and killed a soldier during Robin Sage because he wasn't aware that Robin Sage was a training exercise, and apparently some of the gunplay was a little too realistic. Still, that was just one incident over the course of four decades.
Assuming it's true that nothing sketchy is going on with Jade Helm, the federal government doesn't seem to grasp how weird it all looks. The whole Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theory was kicked off when a map related to the operation was leaked, marking Texas, Utah, and part of California as "hostile" territory.
That might not mean anything real, but the Army didn't explain away the natural suspicion that such a map would provoke, particularly among the conspiracy-minded gunslingers living across the American West. Instead, in an official statement, the Army basically said that Jade Helm is a secret but that it would actually be a good thing, because it would bring "economic gain: an increase in the local economy, in fuel and food purchases and hotel lodging."
Unsurprisingly, those who were concerned about Jade Helm weren't reassured, filling the information vacuum with conspiracy theories. Suddenly, Jade Helm was everywhere: Bluebell ice cream trucks looked suspiciously like mobile morgues; recently closed Walmarts were being converted into government processing centers, perhaps to control the food supply; FEMA and its "death domes" were obviously involved. Alex Jones helpfully suggested that "Helm" stands for "Homeland Eradication of Local Militants."
Now, as Jade Helm kicks off, a group civilian group called Counter Jade Helm is gearing up to act as a voluntary watchdog group and presumably signal to America's bunker-dwellers if it's ever time to break out the gas masks. Counter Jade Helm claims to have about 200 volunteers across seven states, although as Texas Team Leader Eric Johnston, a former sheriff's deputy, ominously told ABC News, "I would like to think that if the situation were to turn afoul, many more of our people would stand up and come to assist."
The group is run out of Phoenix, Arizona, by a 44-year-old former Marine named Pete Lanteri, who has spent the past decade running civilian border patrols to catch undocumented immigrants trying to sneak into the US, and is now using those skills—and his network of civilian volunteers—to monitor the military.
"We're going to be watching what they do in the public," he told the Houston Chronicle. "Obviously, on a military base they can do whatever they want. But if they're going to train on public land we have a right as American citizens to watch what they're doing."
On the official Counter Jade Helm website, there's a helpful map of known operations. Another section provides a method for creating and sharing "SALUTE reports." SALUTE is jargon from actual military reconnaissance, used when scouting the enemy. It stands for "size," "activity," "location," "unit," "time," and "equipment." In other words, they're borrowing tactics from the military to monitor the military.
The SALUTE reports section is sitting empty at the moment.
And as far as Jade Helm operations go, there's not much to report. ABC News reporters heard a few gunshots from a military base in Bastrop, Texas, but that's to be expected from a military drill.
Still, two uninvited Texans named Derrick Broze and Mark Jankins decided to scout the base on Wednesday afternoon. But the two volunteers—who may or may not be CJH members—told the the Austin American-Statesman that nothing looked unusual in Bastrop.
Broze pointed out, however, that "there's a perfectly legitimate reason for people to fear their government will see them as the enemy."
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