An Infowars conspiracy theory about military takeover of the American Southwest might become a surprising wedge issue among Texas’s Republican presidential candidates.
The Daily Beast detailed last week how the Jade Helm 15 military training exercises—wherein U.S. Special Operations forces will move throughout the Southwest preparing for atypical warfare conditions—have set off such a noisy panic that Texas’s governor has ordered the state’s military to keep an eye on things.
Concerns about those training exercises have been fueled by Alex Jones’s goofball site Infowars, which soberly suggested that this might be the beginning of a military war on the Tea Party. That is not a thing that is happening. Still, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas stated he was directing the Lone Star state’s military to tail U.S. troops in part “to ensure that Texas communities remain safe.” Abbott’s move generated much levity, with one Texas Democrat consultant suggesting that the governor’s next area of concern might be abominable snowmen.
When I was reporting out that story, I reached out to a number of presidential contenders’ camps for comment and got radio silence. Most of the candidates’ spokespeople didn’t even bother to reply to my email, and understandably—who wants to go on the record awkwardly not commenting about a wacky conspiracy theory that has a small but vocal sector of the Republican base buying hollow-tip ammo and investing in survival food?
But a few of those presidential contenders have spoken about the issue to other media outlets, and their answers are quite telling. On April 21, conservative Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson asked Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul if he knew what the deal with Jade Helm was.
“You know I’ve gotten a few questions about it on the road and I really don’t—” Paul replied, per Talking Points Memo’s transcript. “I’m not sure about exactly what is going on with that.”
“It’s making some people nervous, but it doesn’t take much to make people nervous nowadays,” Mickelson replied. “If you get a chance to, I’d like to know what the rest of the story is on that.”
“We’ll look at that also,” the Kentucky senator replied.
Never fear, citizens of the Southwest: Rand Paul is going to make sure the military doesn’t take over your Whataburgers.
Not to be outdone, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican convention that he’d had his office reach out to the Pentagon to make sure everything is OK.
“We are assured it is a military training exercise,” he said. “I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don’t trust what it is saying.”
Former Texas governor Rick Perry drew the sharpest contrast with Abbott’s Infowars pandering.
“It’s OK to question your government. I do it on a regular basis,” he said on May 5, per 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.”
Questioning men and women in uniform is exactly what Abbott did, and exactly what Cruz and Paul endorsed. Now, thanks to Infowars and unfounded anxieties, we have an early way of differentiating between some of the most conservative—and, in Perry’s case, potential—presidential candidates. Buckle up, guys. 2016 is going to be nuts.