The White House tried to reassure Americans and the governor of Texas Wednesday that a planned special U.S. military training operation in several southwestern states is no cause for alarm.
The plans have raised fears among some Texans of a federal occupation.
“In no way will the constitutional rights or civil liberties of any American citizen be infringed upon while this exercise is being conducted,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
The military exercise is called Operation Jade Helm 15, and will involve about 1,200 special forces training over eight weeks that will simulate special operations in hostile territory. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered members of the Texas State Guard to “monitor” the federal troops in the upcoming exercise.
Asked by a reporter in the White House press corps whether Texans were expressing “paranoia” or whether their concerns were justified, Mr. Earnest refuted reports that the special forces would be “incognito.”
“My understanding is that the individuals who are participating in the exercise won’t be traveling incognito, that they’ll be wearing arm bands,” he said.
As for the governor, Mr. Earnest said, “I have no idea what he’s thinking.”
Then he added to the laughter of many reporters at the White House, “I might have an idea of what he’s thinking, but I’m not going to …” His voice trailed off.
In a letter to Major Gen. Gerald Betty of the Texas State Guard, Mr. Abbott said he was taking the action “to address concerns of Texas citizens.”
“During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” the governor wrote. “I am directing the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm 15.”
The State Guard is comprised of volunteer reservists, and the force is commanded by the governor.
At a special meeting Monday of the Bastrop County, Texas, commissioners, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria tried to assure local residents that the training operation will be routine and said it’s vital to prepare soldiers for real operations.
“The terrain is very challenging and it’s going to make our soldiers sweat, and sweating in peacetime is what we want because it’s going to reduce the bleeding in wartime,” he said.
But his presentation didn’t allay the concerns of some residents.
“It’s the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany,” Bob Wells of Bastrop told the Austin American-Statesman. “You get the people used to the troops on the street, the appearance of uniformed troops and the militarization of the police. They’re gathering intelligence. That’s what they’re doing. And they’re moving logistics in place for martial law. That’s my feeling. Now I could be wrong. I hope I am wrong. I hope I’m a ‘conspiracy theorist.’”
The training exercise is to run from July 15 to Sept. 15, and will involve all four branches of the military. Bastrop is one of 12 Texas counties where the operation will take place.
Lt. Col. Lastoria said soldiers will wear either uniforms or orange arm bands to show that they are part of the training. The special forces involved in the exercise will use military equipment to travel between seven Southwestern states, from Texas to California.
Radio host Alex Jones has been warning that the exercise will involve soldiers operating “undetected amongst civilian populations.” The plans for the drill first caused alarm when it was discovered that Texas and Utah were labeled “hostile” territory in documents connected with the training exercise.
Lt. Col. Lastoria told citizens in Bastrop County that Texas has traditionally been welcoming to the military.
“You may have issues with the administration. So be it,” he said, according to the American-Statesman. “But this institution right here has been with you for over 200 years. I’ve worn this uniform across five different administrations for 27 years.”