NEWS: The conspiracy-fraught military exercise dubbed Jade Helm 15 has officially ended, without heralding martial law or a hostile takeover of Texas.
In early 2015, conspiracy theories about the U.S. domestic military exercises known as Jade Helm (or Jade Helm 15) inspired a flurry of rumors on the Internet, such as this early iteration of rumor:
Many people both in and out of the media have assumed that “Jade Helm” was to be a training exercise to test and develop tactics to protect the Southwest from an invasion by a foreign government, drug cartels, or possibly terrorist organization. However, the Operational Plan for the exercise clearly shows that this drill is about the implementation of martial law and the subsequent pacification and subjugation of the American people by their government.
By mid-March 2015, Jade Helm conspiracy rumors became a nuisance for the military; on that date, military news source Stars and Stripes published an article titled “Army Special Operations Command Pushes Back Against Alarmist Claims About Upcoming Exercise” in which U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria attempted to dispel the increasingly widespread scuttlebutt:
“That notion was proposed by a few individuals who are unfamiliar with how and why USASOC conducts training exercises,” he said in an email. “This exercise is routine training to maintain a high level of readiness for Army Special Operations Forces because they must be ready to support potential missions anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.”
He said the only thing unique about this particular exercise, which is slated to take place between July 15 and Sept. 15, is “the use of new challenging terrain” which was chosen because it is similar to conditions special operations forces operate in overseas.
In April 2015, the Jade Helm rumors were partially catalyzed by speculation over the sudden and concurrent closure of several Walmart stores in states named in the exercise. Those rumors intensified when Walmart claimed the affected locations had been closed (abruptly and simultaneously) due to “plumbing problems.” Social media users began sharing photographs they claimed depicted sinister Jade Helm activities:
— #JADEHELM15 (@JadeHelm15Intel) April 21, 2015
Lt. Col. Lastoria’s reassurances didn’t do much to quell growing fear of Jade Helm (particularly in Texas), and on 27 April 2015 he spoke at a contentious town hall meeting in Bastrop, Texas. The following day, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott arguably validated (and mainstreamed) those concerns via Twitter:
I've ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15 to safeguard Texans' constitutional rights, private property & civil liberties
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) April 28, 2015
On the same date, Gov. Abbott sent a letter outlining his concerns about Jade Helm and its potential effects on his constituents. Rumors of near-operational Jade Helm camps subsequently sprang up, and an unrelated rumor about natural disasters was sucked into the by-then wide-ranging conspiracy stew (alongside a separate claim involving a comet).
Predictably fake news sites wanted in on the fearmongering as well, claiming Texans were forcibly implanted with microchips and that exercises in the state had claimed one of what would be several civilian casualties. Eventually, the Jade Helm panic became so dramatic it was virtually impossible to tell expressions from genuine conspiracists apart from parodies of them. By August 2015, reports circulated claiming shots had been fired at Camp Shelby (one of the locations at which Jade Helm exercises took place):
Jade Helm has been underway for nearly a month, and so far none of their predictions have come true. The operation has gone largely unnoticed, though news outlets have reported on troop movements and other drills in Texas, Mississippi and other states in recent weeks and a man was arrested last week for allegedly shooting at trainees near Camp Shelby, a short drive from Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Compared to the months-long buildup of conspiracy rumors, the fanfare-free conclusion of Jade Helm 15 on 14 September 2015 was a relative let-down:
The exercise will end quietly Tuesday, however. Carried out in parts of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, it will conclude after two months of operations, said Suzanne Nagl, a spokeswoman for Army Special Operations Command, which oversaw it.
“At this time, we do not have any lessons learned to share since we have not yet conducted an after-action review of the exercise, but we do believe the exercise overall was a success,” Nagl said in an email.
The military has routinely held training exercises like Jade Helm in the past. But this one took on a life of its own before it even began. An informational meeting attended by citizens and local government officials in Bastrop, Texas, in April generated national attention after several people accused the federal government of preparing for a takeover.
Twitter users expressed opinions about the conspiracy’s reach:
Public Service Announcement: Jade Helm 15 is officially over. Texas is still Texas. There was no military takeover. Carry on.
— Rusty Surette (@KBTXRusty) September 15, 2015
— John Berry (@PokerChaplain) September 15, 2015
— Steve Benen (@stevebenen) September 15, 2015
— Amanda M. Franks (@Amandafranks9M) September 15, 2015
Although the intent and scope of Jade Helm appeared to have been widely exaggerated by the rumors’ proponents, at least one lasting effect was measured as it wrapped up: Texas State Guard recruiter David Childers “described a ‘substantial increase in interest apparently due to the Jade Helm announcement.'”