AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Republican Gov. Greg Abbott pushed back Monday against criticism of him asking the State Guard to monitor a U.S. military training exercise that some believe is a government conspiracy to launch a hostile takeover of Texas.
Fears about the upcoming, multiple-state “Jade Helm 15” war simulation being a preamble to martial law have circulated on social media and conservative websites for months. After a packed town hall meeting about the training exercise last week in rural Bastrop County, Abbott wrote to the State Guard and said measures would be in place to make sure civil liberties are not infringed upon.
That set off some of the sharpest criticism Abbott has faced since taking office in January, including one former Republican state legislator accusing the new governor of “pandering to idiots.”
Abbott said his request to the State Guard would help allay concerns.
“There was, frankly, an overreaction to the simple fact that someone has to be in charge with gathering and disseminating information,” said Abbott, speaking to reporters for the first time since sending the letter. “We stepped in to play that role, which is a role to be applauded.”
When asked whether addressing the issue legitimized fringe theories, Abbott said no. He said he was responding to citizen questions, which he said the government has an obligation to answer.
Some at the Bastrop County meeting questioned a U.S. Army commander about whether the government was planning to confiscate guns or implement martial law. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape, who has thanked Abbott for his letter, said “conspiracy theorists” and “fearmongers” had been in a frenzy.
“I’ve seen nothing that would cause anybody to worry about what’s going on,” Abbott said.
Suspicions about Jade Helm intensified after a map labeled Texas, Utah and parts of California as “hostile” for the purposes of the three-month training exercise that begins in July. Such war simulations aren’t unusual, though the Army has acknowledged that the size and scope of Jade Helm makes it unique.
A White House spokesman last week said he had “no idea” what Abbott was thinking with his letter. Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wrote an opinion piece in The Dallas Morning News that didn’t mention Abbott’s letter but bemoaned suspicions of U.S. troops.
“What the letter did was really quite simple and non-inflammatory, and I think that’s the way it should be construed,” Abbott said.
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