Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s willingness to pander to the manic extremism broadcast through AM radio airwaves and streamed on the margins of YouTube apparently has him playing right into the hands of Russian disinformation campaigns.
At least that’s what former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden said on a “Morning Joe” podcast about the governor’s decision in 2015 to deploy the Texas State Guard to monitor federal troops.
Hayden said, “There was an exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 15 that Russian bots in the American alt-right media convinced most — many — Texans was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.”
Abbott fell right into the trap, Hayden said, by legitimizing conspiracy theories with official state action. “At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time,’ and at that point I think they said ‘We’re going to play in the electoral process.’”
If Hayden’s report is right, then the governor of Texas was fooled into siccing the Texas State Guard on U.S. troops by Russia.
For anyone with at least one foot planted in reality, it was clear that Jade Helm 15 wasn’t actually an Obama-orchestrated Trojan Horse meant to implement martial law in Texas, take away all the guns and lock up political dissidents in abandoned Walmarts. But that’s the narrative that was drummed up, supposedly backed up by a U.S. military map that depicted conservative states Texas and Utah in “hostile control.”
Conspiracy theorists like Austin’s Alex Jones and alt-right outlets like Breitbart certainly fueled the hysteria, but it jumped from the fringes to the mainstream when Texas Republican politicians started publicly entertaining the idea that Jade Helm had ulterior motives. Abbott famously dispatched the Texas State Guard to monitor federal troops and Senator Ted Cruz made inquiries with the Pentagon, saying, “I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty.”
Congressman Louie Gohmert (of course) weighed in, saying, “When the federal government begins, even in practice, games or exercises, to consider any U.S. city or state in ‘hostile’ control and trying to retake it, the message becomes extremely calloused and suspicious.”
It wasn’t the last time that Russian counterintelligence operations were allegedly able to exploit Texans’ paranoia. In November, a Russian-linked Facebook page advocating for Texas secession organized a protest outside an Islamic center in Houston calling to “Stop Islamification of Texas” while another Russian-linked Facebook group called for a counterprotest. People actually showed up on both sides and confrontations ensued.
But the Russians are only swimming in our (probably fluoridated) waters. Here in Texas, it’s almost as if the entire conservative political project is rooted in stoking reactionary fears. Just a couple weeks ago, as Trump warned of a caravan of Central Americans hellbent on crossing into the U.S., Abbott deployed National Guard troops to the border.
Meanwhile, another Jade Helm-style exercise is planned for San Angelo in June. Oddly enough, now that Trump is president, there’s a notable lack of freaking out this time.