Have you noticed that Utah doesn’t seem to be worried about a military takeover?
This was not a sentence I had ever envisioned writing. Yet here we are. A military training exercise is in the works for the Southwest this summer, and conspiracy theories are abloom. It’s hard not to be enthralled when Wal-Mart denies that tunnels are being built under its stores to ferry troops into Texas where they will tear up the Constitution and confiscate everybody’s guns.
Hey, no laughing matter in Texas.
“This military practice has some concerned that the U.S. Army is preparing for modern-day martial law,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
He understands. He’s worried about tons of things, like whether al-Qaida is camping out with Mexican drug dealers along the border. He’s exactly the person you’d want on speed dial if you had news about political apocalypse. So it’s not all that surprising that he said his office was “inundated” with alarmed calls.
Much of the hysteria focused on a map of the seven states where the military training is going to take place, colored to show how friendly the imaginary inhabitants are supposed to be for the purposes of the exercise. Texas is red and “hostile.”
The color coding was a bad move, public-relations-wise, as was naming the entire exercise Jade Helm 15. If they’d called it Operation Calico Kitten and made Oregon the pretend enemy, we would not be having this discussion now.
“I was rather appalled that the hostile areas amazingly have a Republican majority,” Gohmert said.
The other all-red state is Utah, but Utah seems totally indifferent to Jade Helm and all its terrors. The office of Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said it had received only about two dozen calls on the subject, and Herbert himself waved off the military plans as a “standard training exercise.”
Question: Is the governor of Utah’s name Gary Herbert? I thought it was something cuter and semiaquatic.
Answer: You are thinking of Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho. Idaho isn’t even IN the training exercises. Although some right-wing commentators have claimed that one of Otter’s economic development initiatives is actually a plot to sell the state to the Chinese.
But let’s get back to Utah. It’s very conservative and would certainly be upset by plans for gun confiscation. (This year the Legislature’s commemorative firearm is an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle with the state motto on the side.) So why hasn’t it been moved by predictions of Jade Helm Armageddon?
“There’s nobody railing that I’ve heard at this point,” said Robert Goldberg, a professor of history at the University of Utah who has written a book on conspiracy theories.
He’s lived in Texas and finds that “Utah people have less of an edge. They’re less angry.” The state’s relative serenity, he theorized, might spring from its homogeneity. “I think people feel they’re in control. It’s a confident conservatism.”
Texas is getting more diverse by the hour, so maybe that’s it. Although conservatives would say their angst is because of the bullying behemoth that is Washington. Where only 28.5 percent of House committees are led by Texas Republicans. Where there’s been a Texan in the White House for only a third of the past nine presidencies. Honestly, these people need to do more to earn their paranoia.
Everyone who operates in the public world and gets mail knows that a small percentage of the U.S. population is completely out of its mind. It’s always been that way. The founding fathers probably received letters from people who believed that King George was living in a barn down the road and spying on the local militia while disguised as a burro. The difference now, of course, is that the Internet and social media make them a lot more visible and noisy.
It’s also always been true that any legislative body has a handful of members who are both loony and extremely talkative. They have no influence on their colleagues, but these days they have the power to go viral. Louie Gohmert is only there for the cheap thrills.
Even in Texas, prominent conservatives don’t believe the state is in danger of military takeover. But they also don’t want to look as if they’re taking the Obama administration’s side, even when it comes to assuring the public there won’t be a coup in Midland.
“When you see a federal government that is attacking our free speech rights, our religious liberty rights, our Second Amendment rights, that produces distrust as to government,” Sen. Ted Cruz, a presidential candidate, told Bloomberg Politics.
So the bad news is that there are a lot of spineless politicians out there. On the other hand, despite a week’s worth of tireless effort by right-wing radio talk-show hosts, bloggers and tweeters, there actually appear to be very few people who think the military is going to stage a takeover via the tunnels under Wal-Mart.
Take the good news where you can get it. Thanks, Utah.