Memo to paranoids: Obama isn’t plotting to impose martial law

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    It’s a shame that historian Richard Hofstadter, author of The Paranoid Style in American Politics, isn’t here to witness the right-wing freakout over the military’s summer training program. He’d have fresh grist for his mill.

    Half a century ago, Hofstadter famously wrote that there are many paranoids in our midst, people who traffic in “heated exaggerations, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasies,” people who convince themselves “that the unbelieveable is the only thing that can be believed,” people who are “afflicted not only by the real world, but by their fantasies as well.”

    All of which perfectly describes what’s been happening lately in Texas (natch) – a feverish fantasy that has been stoked and indulged by prominent Republicans (natch). Here’s the gist:

    The Pentagon is planning a summer exercise in the Southwest – it’s called Operation Jade Helm 15 – one of those simulated scenarios where various branches of the military try to recapture American territory. The Pentagon has been doing this kind of thing for years; last fall there was Bold Alligator, a naval exercise where Marines and sailors had to defeat hostiles who had seized parts of Georgia and Florida. In the Jade Helm exercise, the hostiles hold Utah, parts of Southern California, and Texas.

    OK. I’m trying to say this with a straight face. The current concern, among some Texans, is that Jade Helm is just a ruse by President Obama to seize Texas at gunpoint and impose martial law. And that the nefarious socialist plans to marshal his troops in subterranean tunnels that have been dug beneath…um…Wal-Mart stores.

    Several Wal-Mart stores have closed recently in Texas, and that’s very suspicious…what the heck, I’ll let Texas talk radio host Dave Hodges explain it: “Jade Helm and Wal-Mart are inextricably linked and the existing evidence suggests one of two possible end game probabilities for Jade Helm. Converted Wal-Mart stores will be processing centers for FEMA camp political prisoners, (or) some Wal-Marts will be used as supply and staging centers for internal conflict within the United States.”

    Makes sense, if you’re into that kind of thinking. Talk show host Alex Jones is into it; on his website, he has the headline “Feds preparing to invade Texas, list state as ‘hostile.'” B-movie actor Chuck Norris is into it; on a conservative website, he writes: “The U.S. government says ‘it’s just a training exercise,’ but I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality.” The website IntelliHub is into it: “Are the closed Wal-Marts being activated as central command for underground operations?”

    Actually, the only reason we know about the summer military exercise is because the Army Special Operations Command publicly announced it in March. And because unclassified documents were posted online in March. If a military coup was being planned, it would surely have been kept secret (rent the ’64 movie Seven Days in May). But that line of reasoning would impinge on the paranoid style.

    Pentagon officials – as well as the military newspapers Stars & Stripes and Army Times – have repeatedly tried to reassure such folks that no such plot is in the works – two days ago, Army Col. Steve Warren had to state the obvious: “Operation Jade Helm poses no threat to any American’s civil liberties. It is being conducted by Americans” – and one would think that all our elected leaders would unequivocally say the same. But no. Because in paranoia, there is opportunity.

    Rand Paul recently fanned the suspicions when he said on the radio that he was “not sure about exactly what is going on.” The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, has decided to dispatch Texas National Guard troops to keep watch on the U.S military troops  – thus prompting an angry open letter from fellow Republican Todd Smith, a 16-year veteran of the state legislature: “I am appalled that you would give credence to the nonsense mouthed by…shock-jock-driven hysteria.”

    And Ted Cruz has offered his usual scholary ballast: “I understand the concern that’s been raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It’s a question I’m getting a lot. And I think a part of the reason is, we have seen for six years a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens, and that produces fear.” (This is the same fearsome federal government that pumps billions of federal aid dollars into Texas – because Texas pays $30,000 a month to Washington lobbying firms for the express purpose of scavenging for federal dollars. Dollars that enhance the liberty of Texas citizens.)

    Anyway. Another military official, Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria, who’s clearly befuddled by the paranoid style in American politics, offered this lament the other day on Houston radio: “In reality, all we want to do (in these war games) is be sure that our guys are trained for combat overseas. That’s it.”

    Lastoria stressed that message at a Texas community meeting last week. He told the audience, “This is not a preparation for martial law.” Whereupon somebody scoffed, “That’s what you say!” Which means, of course, that Lastoria is also part of the conspiracy. I’m surprised that nobody asked him why he wasn’t wearing his Obamacare armband.

    But seriously, I always thought that folks on the right loved the U.S. military, that they revere the fighters who train to keep us safe. Isn’t it unpatriotic to be “against the troops?”

     

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

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