Newly released records show that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pandered to conspiracy theorists worried about a possible military takeover of the state during the Jade Helm 15 training exercise.
The Republican governor had initially sent a more measured response to dozens of letters he received from fearful constituents – but he shifted his tone after more than a hundred Bastrop County residents grilled elected officials and an Army spokesman, reported the San Antonio Express-News.
“Rest assured, this is not a martial law exercise,” Abbott’s office responded in emails and letters, according to records released through the Public Information Act.
“Law enforcement agencies in the training areas are fully aware of the exercise and will be coordinating with military officials to ensure the safety of residents and exercise participants,” the governor’s office told constituents.
That changed after the April 27 special meeting called by the Bastrop County Commission, where Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria was unable to persuade crowd members that the military would not confiscate guns or help Islamic State militants invade.
Abbott issued a directive the following day asking the State Guard to monitor the training exercise to ensure that “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights, and civil liberties will not be infringed.”
The governor’s office had not comment on the Express-News report, but he said earlier this month that the Bastrop County meeting and letters his office received had revealed deep concerns about the large-scale training exercise.
One woman, according to newly released records, asked if there was anything Texans could do besides “lock and load.”
“Please do what you can to keep military ops on military bases,” one San Antonio man urged the governor. “Scramble the Texas Air National Guard if need be. Citizens of Texas don’t need further, and continued intimidation from our Marxist president.”
A former Republican state lawmaker, Todd Smith, sent a scathing letter to Abbott afterward accusing the governor of “pandering to idiots.”
“I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do,” Smith said. “I’m not sure which is worse.”
A political expert told the Express-News the governor had made a poor decision to move away from his original, measured response to Jade Helm 15 concerns – but he doubted it would hurt Abbott if he seeks re-election in three years.
“If there is a pattern that develops of this kind of obsequiousness toward the fringe faction, then that could be a problem,” said David Crockett, a Trinity University political scientist.