Former Texas Lt. Gov. responds to conspiracy theories over Jade Helm

Jade Helm 15 is multi-state training mission for special operations soldiers scheduled over an eight-week period this summer, with most of the activity happening on private property. The Army has staged similar training exercises for many years, but this

Smithville is about as small town as small town Texas gets, with a Main Street café serving chicken fried steak just down the block from antique stores stocked with rustic furniture and 78 rpm records.

An old train station converted into a chamber of commerce building sits next to a small park with a swing set where Tiffany Beasley plays with her two kids.

"Everyone gets along and there's no big mess," she said. "And everybody just is friendly."

And yet, some people in this friendly little town are mighty suspicious about what the federal government's about to do around here.

"Well, I'm not trusting what we're being told," said Mike Hightower, an affable antique store owner and real estate agent. "I think there's something a little more involved than what they're telling us."

An overflow crowd of citizens that jammed into a Bastrop County commissioner's court meeting this week shared the same skepticism, peppering a military officer with questions about an upcoming military exercise called Jade Helm 15.

"The people of Bastrop do not want this!" shouted Daniel Ducloux, whose declaration triggered cheers that echoed through an overflow room where even more people watched on a TV monitor and posted updates on social media.

Jade Helm 15 is multi-state training mission for special operations soldiers scheduled over an eight-week period this summer, with most of the activity happening on private property. The Army has staged similar training exercises for many years, but this one has ignited a firestorm of conspiracy theorist speculation that it's a prelude to a declaration of martial law.

A map reportedly linked to the training exercise threw gasoline on the bonfire of rumors because some areas of the country, including Texas, are marked as "hostile."

One widely repeated conspiracy theory suggests the federal government plans to convert recently closed Wal-Mart stores into detention centers for civilians. Another tosses out the idea that domes recently constructed in many towns will become "death domes."

"This is not a preparation for martial law," Lt. Col Mark Lastoria told a citizen attending the meeting.

"That's what you say," the man responded.

Bastrop County leaders agreed to the operation in their area, although it isn't entirely clear the military needed their permission. Army officials say they're coordinating with local authorities, especially law enforcement officers, and publicizing it through their website.

The army says it's sending only 60 soldiers and a couple of Humvees to Bastrop County. Most people, they say, won't even notice anything because the operations will be conducted mainly on private property. Still, distrust of the federal government runs deep in Texas, so some people just don't believe what army officials are saying.

"They really want this to be a greater conspiracy," Lastoria said. "And in reality, all we want to do is be sure our guys are trained for combat overseas. That's it."

Even though the meeting drew a much larger crowd than he anticipated, Paul Pape, the county judge, thinks most people in his community support the exercise. He hoped the meeting would cool some of the heated speculation.

"You're just not going to satisfy people." Pape said. "And this was not about changing anybody's mind."


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