U.S. president Barack Obama’s eight years in office kept the conspiracy theorists busy.
One prominent example: a strongly held belief that a military exercise in Texas called Jade Helm 2015 would in fact usher in the beginning of martial law.
“Over the course of 2015, the conspiracy theory became progressively more complicated and less coherent, with claims that Jade Helm was somehow linked to a spate of Walmart closures in Texas and other states, that civilians were being implanted with microchips,” Snopes explained. The Times said in 2015 that the fantasies “traverse the outer edges of political paranoia.”
This idea requires suspensions of disbelief at various points, including the concept that a serious attempt at military rule could be fended off by a small group of unarmed patriots with binoculars.
Nonetheless, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s National Guard to “monitor” the exercise, first saying that they would ensure that Texans’ “safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed,” but adding a few days later that the Guard would serve “as a communication facilitator between the Special Operations Forces and the people of the state of Texas and nothing more than that.”
The whole strange episode may seem like water under the bridge, except for a revelation by former CIA director Michael Hayden on Friday.
Hayden, appearing on MSNBC, said that Russian bots, along with existing extreme-right media, had a role in fueling the conspiracy theories. For the Russians, Abbott’s decision to involve the Guard – whatever their real role actually was – gave them the confidence to target the 2016 U.S. election.
“Russian bots and the alt-right media … convinced many Texans (the exercise) was an Obama plot to round up dissidents. It got so much traction that the governor of Texas had to call out the National Guard to observe the federal exercise to keep the population calm,” Hayden said.
“At that point, I’m figuring the Russians are saying, ‘We can go big time.’ At that point I think they made the decision, ‘We are going to play in the electoral process.'”
(Russia has tried to amplify separatist movements led by conservatives in Texas – the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency operated the Heart of Texas Facebook page, which at the time Facebook took it down had half a million followers, more than the Texas Democratic and Republican Facebook pages combined. It it also linked to California separatists, who trend liberal. In any case, the Civil War set a precedent that no state can secede, so the debate is academic.)
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