How a Bizarre Conspiracy Theory About a Military Takeover of the Southwest Grew Wildly Out of Control

Starting this week, the U.S. military is engaged in large-scale exercises across seven southwestern states. Although military exercises are not unusual, the large size and scope of these activities gave birth to conspiracy theories that the Jade Helm exercises, as they are known, are part of a federal government coup against state governments.

This bizarre conspiracy theory caught fire thanks to steady promotion from various media and political figures including Fox News and Texas politicians. Starting in late winter and the earlier spring, various conspiracy websites and YouTube accounts began uploading intricate conspiracy theories about how the Jade Helm exercise was actually cover for martial law. That could have been the end of it, but figures on Fox News began airing segments about the operation, saying the “army training exercise raises questions,” turning it from a vague conspiracy theory to a legitimate topic of debate.

This escalated the rumors to the level where Texas lawmakers felt they had to pander to the conspiracy theorists. Texas Republican governor Greg Abbot requested that the state's National Guard monitor the exercise. When criticized for this move, he said he's “trying to instill a sense of calm” in his state's people. Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said he had been “inundated” with phone calls on the matter, and that he could “understand these concerns” his constituents have.

With the validation of Fox News and some of Texas' own lawmakers, the conspiracy theory grew wings that were hard to clip. In Texas and nearby states, some people actually buying extra ammunition, while others are hiding their firearms, fearful that the federal government will be coming for them.

These fears have so far proved to be without substance, as the exercises have taken place without a hint of government takeover. 

Which raises the question, why did so many on the right and in the Republican Party appease the fringe and help their strength grow, rather than act responsibly? In a Republican Party afraid to rein in the nativist Donald Trump and watching its base taken over by hate radio and Fox News, it may be an existential question.

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