Bastrop Residents Say Abbott Playing Politics With Conspiracy Theories

Federal takeover has yet to materialize in front of the Bastrop County Republican Party Headquarters.
John Savage
Federal takeover has yet to materialize in front of the Bastrop County Republican Party Headquarters.

A week after Gov. Greg Abbott said he would deploy the Texas State Guard to monitor a U.S. military training exercise called Jade Helm 15—which some Texans see as the nucleus of a federal takeover, or worse—he tried to calm the agitation his letter caused.

“I’ve seen nothing anyone has to fear,” Abbott told reporters Monday after the Texas State Prayer Breakfast.

Abbott said he ordered the State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15, a multi-state special operations training exercise, to assure that Texas communities remain safe during the operation’s eight-week training period, starting in July.

The furor over Jade Helm was kicked off in part by an Austin American-Statesman story about a city council meeting in Bastrop, where some conspiracy-minded residents expressed extreme displeasure with their town’s peripheral role in the training exercise. But residents of Bastrop said in a series of interviews over the weekend that they aren’t generally concerned with the situation and view the Texas State Guard deployment as politically motivated.

Chris Parachini, a 42-year-old father of six runs a goldsmith store on Main Street in Bastrop. Parachini said the conspiracy theories are overblown, and Abbott is using some residents’ fear for political gain.

“Abbot sending in the State Guard, that’s just politics, he knows what’s going on,” Parachini said Sunday as two of his children played on the floor of his shop.

Other Main Street business owners agreed with Parachini’s assessment.

“It’s political. They think they can say, ‘Obama is coming for your guns,’ and they’ll get votes,” said Frank Ferguson, a 75-year-old antique store owner.

Last week, the Bastrop County Commissioners called a special meeting in an effort to quell the Obama-is-coming-for-your-guns speculation. County Judge Paul Pape pleaded with the audience. “If I as a county judge felt we were in one iota of danger from this military training coming to Bastrop County,” Pape said, “I would do all I could to put a stop to it. I do not feel that way.”

Greg Abbott
Gov. Greg Abbott

Most Bastrop residents may be treating the military training exercises with a shrug, but the governor elected not to join them. On Tuesday, Abbott announced he would deploy the Texas State Guard.

“During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” Abbott wrote in a letter to Major General Gerald Betty, Commander of the Texas State Guard.

The Texas State Guard, part of the Texas Military, is a volunteer state militia headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin. The Guard assists local authorities during emergencies.

Several Republican politicians have criticized Abbott’s move.

Former state Rep. Todd Smith excoriated Abbott in a letter he sent last week. Smith said he is “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.”

The origin of the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories can be traced largely to Austin-based radio host and noted right-wing extremist Alex Jones. Jones is the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America, according to The Southern Poverty Law Center.

Conspiracy theories like those peddled by Jones often offer a simple explanation for a broad range of problems: A powerful entity is acting secretly to hurt the common good. And not everyone in Bastrop is at ease.

“The federal government took over Baltimore, but they won’t take over Bastrop,” Kyle Arrington, a 26-year-old pizza cook said Sunday over a glass of iced tea at Bastrop’s Old Town Bar.

“It would be too big a fight. Texas has more guns than any other state, we can take care of ourselves.”

Arrington said only a small minority of the town’s more than 7,000 residents believe Jade Helm 15 is an attempt by the Obama administration to take over Texas and seize firearms.

“But it wouldn’t be the first time the federal government tried to take over the South,” he added.

As far as Arrington is concerned, it doesn’t matter if the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories are true or not.

“If something goes wrong, we’re prepared, we can handle it,” he said. “It’s like the old Hank Williams song, “Country Boys Can Survive.“”

John Savage is a writer based in Austin.

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Published at 5:03 pm CST