Gov. Greg Abbott is hoping to assure Texans that martial law will not be imposed during an upcoming military training exercise that has triggered a cascade of conspiracy theories.
The Republican governor ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor the two-month-long Jade Helm 15 exercise that will take place in Bastrop County this summer, reported KUT-FM.
A U.S. Army spokesman answered questions for about two hours Monday from concerned residents who voiced fears that the federal government would gather intelligence on them, confiscate their guns and other property, or conduct psychological operations on them.
He also knocked down concerns that foreign fighters – such as Islamic State militants – would be brought in subdue the population.
The spokesman tried to assure residents that the military has conducted similar exercises before without violating constitutional protections or U.S. law, but the overflow crowd remained highly suspicious.
"I think historically, it's much more common for governments to be tyrannical and infringe on other's rights,” Daniel DuCloux, a Bastrop County resident, told the radio station. “So when you see a large military build-up like this, I think it's our duty as citizens to question what's going on and to find answers. I mean, if we don't, then who will?"
Abbott responded to the concerns, which have been widely circulated on social media and conspiracy clearinghouse websites, by instructing Maj. Gen. Gerald Betty to monitor to the exercise and regularly update the governor’s office.
Betty oversees the Texas State Guard -- an unpaid, mostly unarmed volunteer militia officially sanctioned by the state.
Abbott expressed his “utmost respect for the deep patriotism of the brave military men and women,” but the governor said he wanted to assure Texans that their “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights, and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
Military officials said the training operations would take place entirely on private property with the consent of the landowners, and the exercises would involve only willing volunteers engaged in role play.
The Army spokesman said military personnel would be clearly identifiable when they were in public.
Abbott likely hopes his involvement will satisfy those who are concerned about martial law or even a foreign invasion, but one expert remained dubious.
"I doubt that will be the case,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “Anyone who I think believes that there was a conspiracy by the U.S. military is unlikely to be mollified by a letter from the governor.”
Watch portions of the public meeting on Jade Helm 15 in Bastrop County: