Taking steps to ease concerns by some Texans about a massive upcoming federal training exercise in the state, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that he has directed the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation.
About 1,200 military personnel from all branches are expected to participate in the largest-ever training exercise of its kind.
“During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott said in a letter to Maj. Gen. Gerald “Jake” Betty, commander of the State Guard.
Some Texans have been riled up for months over the revelation that maps used by the Army Special Operations Command to show the fictitious battlefield of the Jade Helm 15 training exercise label Texas as “hostile” territory.
On Monday, federal officials fielded questions for two hours from a crowd of more than 150 people at a special meeting of the Bastrop County Commissioners Court, hoping to allay concerns that the operation is a way for the federal government to take over Texas.
Residents responded that federal officials can’t be trusted. They also asked whether Jade Helm 15 will involve bringing foreign fighters from the Islamic State to Texas, whether U.S. troops will confiscate Texans’ guns and whether the Army intends to implement martial law throughout the exercise. The answer for all three was no.
“It’s the same thing that happened in Nazi Germany: You get the people used to the troops on the street, the appearance of uniformed troops and the militarization of the police,” Bob Wells of Bastrop said after the meeting. “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.’”
County Judge Paul Pape invited federal officials to the informational meeting after outrage exploded on social media over the map, which labeled Texas, Utah and the southern tip of California as “hostile.”
Staff writer John Gravois contributed to this report, which includes material from the Austin American-Statesman.