Texas Governor Champions the Rights of Fringe Constituents

On July 15, a massive military exercise began in the United States. Operation Jade Helm 15 is an eight week exercise that covers six states. As explained in the New York Times, it is an exercise for “Special Operations troops in what Army planners call ‘unconventional warfare.’ The exercise is being conducted in rural Texas because the military needed ‘large areas of undeveloped land with low population densities with access to towns,’ and wanted soldiers to adapt to unfamiliar terrain as well as social and economic conditions.”

In the months leading up to the operation, right-wingers (with the help of various media personalities) became convinced there was a much more sinister plan afoot. Texas is one of three areas that have been designated “hostile territory” in the realistic role-playing scenario. The conspiracy theorists interpreted that as a plan by the government (Read: Obama) to invade Texas, take their guns and impose martial law. The plan was revealed by internet detectives who found evidence of tunnels leading to empty Walmarts and Blue Bell ice cream trucks as part of military surveillance… or something.

While the scale is much larger than most exercises, such events are not uncommon. The military has to train for all types of scenarios and do so in many areas around the country. For example, last year the Department of Defense announced they were planning for climate change. They need training to be ready for drier conditions, extreme heat or flooding and how that would affect equipment and troops. The six western states the exercise is taking place in provide the perfect conditions for these types of scenarios, making them a logical location. For the people of Texas, however, logic escaped them.

The chatter soon got so loud that military officials had to issue actual statements to assure people that this was just a test and not an invasion. In May, Texas Governor Greg Abbott realized that he had to be the governor they elected. He not only entertained the fears of invasion, he tried to allay them by saying he was ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise to ensure that Texans’ civil and constitutional rights would not be infringed.

The day before the operation got underway Abbott’s office issued the plan details. As many as five members of the state guard will meet daily with a military liaison to review the day’s activities and plans for the next 72 hour period. There will no monitoring of actual operations in the field – because that would be ridiculous.

In his first term, Abbott has continued the tradition of recent Texas governors representing the fringe of their state. When talk of secession happened in 2009, then Governor Rick Perry said that it was a real possibility. However, Abbott has gone further and put actual thought into action – and not just with protecting Texas from possible invasion by Obama.

In May, a very popular mental health bill was passed with bipartisan support by the Texas legislature. The bill gave authority to law enforcement to apprehend a person for emergency detention and the authority of certain facilities and physicians to temporarily detain a person with mental illness that was deemed a threat or danger to others. When the bill reached the governor’s office in early June, it was expected to be signed without issue. However, that’s not exactly what happened.

A coalition of anti-psychiatry and anti-vaccine groups lobbied the governor, claiming the bill was a violation of basic rights and civil liberties. When his staffers warned him a veto coalition was “led by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a front group for the Church of Scientology” and that “their positions are well outside the mainstream,” Abbott apparently interpreted it as a reminder that these were the people he represented. He ignored the advice of medical and mental health professionals, as well as his legislature, and vetoed the bill, saying “medical staff should not be asked to engage in law enforcement, especially when that means depriving a person of the liberty protected by the Constitution.”

After all, what if a person was stockpiling guns and ammunition and they were detained for being mentally ill, when all they were doing was protecting themselves from an invasion of their state by Obama? That would be ridiculous.