Jade Helm 15
Conspiracy theory that a military training exercise is going to lead to martial law.
by Blake Smith
June 2, 2015
Is a United States military training exercise really a covert operation to establish martial law? Can the governor of Texas and action hero movie-star Chuck Norris do anything to protect us? The training exercise is called Jade Helm 15 and it has some people completely terrified. Today we focus our skeptical eye at one of the more influential conspiracy theories in recent history.
Jade Helm 15 is a joint forces military training exercise that is planned for July 15 to September 15, 2015. It combines forces from the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Activity is planned for seven states, with Army Special Operations Forces working primarily in five: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Texas. According to military press releases and public statements, the exercises are meant to help train US military forces and to practice in a variety of environments. Such exercises also allow leadership to practice joint force coordination, which is often critical in military engagements. The public, in general, is not expected to see much activity because the majority of these training exercises will be conducted in rural areas.
That's the official story. But then there are the conspiracy theories where the story the US government tells is said to be but a misdirection from the alleged "real" purpose of the exercises, which include such elements as these:
- It is really an exercise to ready the military for martial law.
- It is designed to teach how to capture and imprison dissident citizens.
- It includes repurposed Walmarts where mysterious closings and construction are underway.
- Prisoners will be re-educated in soviet-style "training" camps.
It is not really an exercise, but an actual military action against Al Qaeda forces in Mexico. And so on …
On Monday, April 27, 2015 a town hall meeting in Bastrop, Texas found Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria in front of a very concerned crowd of Texans. The audience filled the normal meeting area, and an overflow room. Citizens wanted to know what was going on with Jade Helm 15. They did not like or trust Lastoria's answers.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded to the concerns of these citizens by directing the Texas State Guard (not the National Guard, as was widely misreported) to monitor the military training operation. This order was sent in a letter which reads in part:
To address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe, secure and informed about military procedures occurring in their vicinity, I am directing the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm 15. During the Operation's eight-week training period from July 2015 to September 2015, I expect to receive regular updates on the progress and safety of the operation. During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed."
A link to the full letter can be found in the show notes at Skeptoid.com.
There was a media storm regarding a governor assigning the state's military forces to monitor US military training exercises. But then actor and political activist Chuck Norris wrote an article supporting the governor's position. Norris wrote in part:
If you haven't heard about Jade Helm 15, you need to. It is multi-state training mission for special operations soldiers scheduled over an eight-week period in July and August, with most of the activity happening on private property but some public, too. The official website press release from March 24 admits: "While multi-state training exercises such as these are not unique to the military, the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart."
…Concerned Texans and Americans are in no way calling into question our brave and courageous men and women in uniform. They are merely following orders. What's under question are those who are pulling the strings at the top of Jade Helm 15 back in Washington. The U.S. government says, 'It's just a training exercise.' But I'm not sure the term 'just' has any reference to reality when the government uses it.
While much news coverage has been about the governor's engaging the Texas State Guard, and Norris supporting the Governor and his activity, Skeptoid is not here to take sides on political issues. Such matters are outside the scope of its mission. But the underlying conspiracy theories are precisely the kind of topics we like to critically examine.
The definitive answer to whether or not Jade Helm 15 is a smokescreen for a large scale military action by the US military against its own citizens will be determined during the eight weeks of its operation from July to September 2015. However, there are still ways to evaluate the likely risk that the conspiracies have any validity.
What is the accuracy rate for the people making the conspiracy claims?
A large portion of the conspiracy chatter is coming from Alex Jones and his InfoWars website. This site ranked as number six on Skeptoid's Top 10 Anti-Science Websites list. Jones has built his career on supporting anti-establishment interpretations of history, often employing alarmist rhetoric about future threats that never come to fruition, and dark conspiratorial alternative interpretations of actual historic events. His website is filled with ideas such as 9/11 being an inside job, chemtrails, Illuminati, New World Order, world government, FEMA death camps, and so forth. When Jones is wrong about a prediction, that's okay because he just moves on to the next one. One video on YouTube shares a string of 42 failed predictions that Jones has made.
After the initial wave of news coverage about possible sinister interpretations of Jones' Jade Helm 15 coverage, he stated that "Jade Helm 15 is not a martial law takeover."
InfoWars.com five weeks ago broke Jade Helm. Hundreds of articles a day. Sometimes over 500. On average over 200. Every television system, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN, all of them last week attacked yours truly, by name, and lied about me, and said that I said that 'martial law was coming this summer and that Obama was going to invade Texas with Jade Helm.' And they've put the hoax out now and people are coming up to me on the street saying 'Is it true martial law is coming? Have you heard about this?' They don't even know that we're where the story came from. They're asking me is it true and I'm saying, 'No.' It's incremental. They're not going to take over this summer … probably. We can never say completely. But it's part of acclimating and conditioning.
Another voice supporting the conspiracy is self-described "Health Ranger" Mike Adams. His website, Natural News, is a verdant garden of nonsense and anti-scientific thinking. He posted a lengthy article combining references from InfoWars, alternative news site All News Pipeline and The Daily Mail. Adams says of Jade Helm 15:
Anyone who thinks the U.S. military is training in Bastrop, Texas so that they can fight enemy insurgents in Fallujah is failing to see the gorilla in the room. Operation Jade Helm is, without question, an illegal martial law drill intended to prepare the troops for deployment against civilian populations in America. Its very existence is a direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act which prohibits the U.S. military from functioning as domestic police."
To the conspiracy-minded person, it may be that the prediction accuracy of such sources is not as important as how well such views comport to an anti-establishment worldview. If one is inclined to believe that there are hidden conspiracies at work, and that lack of supporting evidence is itself evidence of the cover-up then perhaps the idea of checking the reliability of a source is not so important. A critical thinker should consider the source's reliability, as well as evidence that accompanies such claims. Since the claims in this story are about an event that has not yet taken place, and no concrete evidence has been provided to show the exercise is a cover for a malevolent takeover, there is virtually no reason to believe that these conspiracy stories have any merit. But let's take a look at the specific claims we can examine.
Is Walmart involved?
One facet of the conspiracy involves the simultaneous closing of multiple Walmarts. How a retail chain with over 5000 US locations closing a few stores equates to Jade Helm 15 is still unclear to me, but people are interpreting it as part of the same alleged martial law activity. The implied conspiracy is that these stores are being converted for use as holding facilities or training camps. Videos and photos of the closed stores, which Walmart has said are being closed temporarily for extensive plumbing repairs, show up in web searches about Jade Helm 15. On one site a video with news footage suggests employees at Walmart do not buy the "plumbing" explanation for the closings. Watching the linked videos reveals that labor union officials suspect the closings to be retaliation for efforts to unionize the store chain, not activity related to a government conspiracy. Videos showing the interiors of the closed Walmarts are described in sinister terms because they've built a wall of shelves to block views of the interior where whatever work is being done is taking place — yet inside the stores one can see that the interiors are still filled with commercial goods, not converted into internment camps or whatever it is that these people think the closings signify.
The Walmart allegations are strongly reminiscent of the FEMA Coffin Conspiracy where photos showing huge stacks of burial vaults were alleged to represent a billion dollars worth of coffins for government extermination camps. This was covered on Skeptoid #214 and it turned out that the vaults were just being stored by a company that makes burial vaults. The vaults are designed to endure weathering and keeping them in a field was more cost effective than warehousing them. People turn the mundane into the nefarious with little provocation.
Does it matter that Texas is listed as Hostile?
The weakest complaint by the conspiracy-minded is that on the Jade Helm 15 battle maps, Texas (and Utah and the southern tip of California) are listed as hostile territory. The military has explained clearly that the maps show how the exercises will be designating the territories, not how the US government feels about the actual citizens of these states. Training exercises use imaginary scenarios and it is routine for them to declare objectives, goals, and operational parameters to simulate a variety of strategic and political narratives. Labeling the territories according to the role these areas will play during the exercise would seem a strange way to secretly plan an attack on the actual citizens. Do people really not understand the difference between role-playing for training, and actual military objectives? For at least some vocal portion of the population, the answer is that they do not.
How can we know whether or not to believe a conspiracy?
Humans seek patterns. We cannot avoid this, but we can learn skills to help us determine whether what we're encountering is a real connection or an imagined one. In his book The Believing Brain, skeptic and author Michael Shermer provides a list of 10 signs that a conspiracy is likely not true. Here a few items from that list that are pertinent to the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy:
The more people involved in the conspiracy the less likely they will be able to keep silent about their secret goings-on.
The grander and more worldly the conspiracy is believed to be — the control of an entire nation, economy or political system, especially if it suggests world domination — the less likely it is to be true.
The more the conspiracy theory ratchets up from small events that might be true into much larger events that have much lower probabilities of being true, the less likely it is to be grounded in reality.
The tendency to commingle facts and speculation without distinguishing between the two and without assigning degrees of probability of factuality, the less likely the conspiracy theory represents reality.
Extreme hostility about and strong suspicions of any and all government agencies or private organizations in an indiscriminate manner indicates that the conspiracy theorist is unable to differentiate between true and false conspiracies.
Jade Helm 15 conspiracies all fit within these patterns which suggest they are implausible.
In conclusion, there is little rational reason to be afraid or worried about the Jade Helm 15 training exercises. It is extremely likely that they are just what the government says they are - an important training exercise to keep the US Military prepared for a variety of future war scenarios. We will know whether the conspiracies had any basis in reality in just a few weeks. It will be interesting to see how the conspiracy theorists spin this should it turn out that nothing in their hyperbolic speculation takes place. For the critical thinker, it seems that the best defense against this potentially frightening military activity is Occam's razor.
By Blake Smith
Cite this article:
Smith, B. "Jade Helm 15." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
2 Jun 2015. Web.
17 Feb 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4469>
References & Further Reading
Baddour, Dylan. "Covert Warfare Coming to Texas Sparks Some Fears of Federal Takeover." Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers, LLC, 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 May. 2015. <http://www.chron.com/news/article/Covert-warfare-comming-to-Texas-6157685.php>
Goertzel, Ted. "The Conspiracy Meme." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jan. 2011, Volume 35, Number 1: TBD.
Goodwyn, Wade. "Texas Governor Deploys State Guard to Stave Off Obama Takeover." National Public Radio. National Public Radio, 2 May 2015. Web. 30 May. 2015. <http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/05/02/403865824/texas-governor-deploys-state-guard-to-stave-off-obama-takeover>
Jahner, Kyle. "Conspiracy Groups Question USASOC Mission in Texas." Army Times. US Government, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 May. 2015. <http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/2015/03/23/usasoc-conspiracy-invade-texas/70345764/>
Lamothe, Dan. "Texas State Guard Ordered to Monitor Military's Operation Jade Helm 15." The Washington Post. Nash Holdgins, LLC, 29 Apr. 2015. Web. 30 May. 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/04/29/as-conspiracy-theories-persist-governor-asks-texas-state-guard-to-monitor-militarys-operation-jade-helm-15/>
Shermer, Michael. The Believing Brain. New York: Times Books, 2011. 207 - 227.
USASOC. "Exercise Readies SOF For Threats Abroad." US Army Special Operations Command. United States Government, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 30 May. 2015. <http://www.soc.mil/UNS/Releases/2015/March/150324-03.html>
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