Beware wary Texans.
Byline: The Register-Guard
One would think the people of Texas would eventually tire of being the butt of jokes on late-night television and social media, but apparently not yet. What the late columnist Molly Ivins called the "finest form of free entertainment ever invented" - Texas politics - is at it again.
On April 27, Army Lt. Col. Mark Listoria held a public briefing in Bastrop County, just east of Austin, about a pending eight-week U.S. military exercise called Jade Helm 15 that will take place in parts of Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. It will be one of the country's biggest peacetime military exercises in six decades and will include Army Green Berets and small groups of Navy SEALS and Air Force special operations troops, as well as standard Army infantry.
Instead of conducting the briefing, Listoria was shouted down by about 200 people who called him a liar and demanded to know about what they said was an imminent federal takeover of Texas and imposition of martial law.
The rumor that President Obama was planning a secret military takeover of Texas was apparently fueled by the Internet posting of a map said to be made up for Jade Helm 15 that shows Texas in bright red and lists it as "hostile" territory. The rumor grew to imagine some closed Wal-Mart stores being put to nefarious uses by the military, Federal Emergency Management Agency domes being built to house American political prisoners, and Islamic State militants camping across the border in Mexico, awaiting the ensuing chaos to launch an attack on the Southwestern United States.
Even rookie Gov. Greg Abbott got caught up in the hysteria and ordered the Texas State Guard (separate from the Texas National Guard) to get ready to "monitor" the military exercises in Texas because, he said, "It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed."
Former state Rep. Todd Smith wrote to Abbott and complained that the governor's action was "pandering to idiots who believe that U.S. Navy SEALS and other U.S. military personnel are somehow a threat to be watched."
Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Vietnam War veteran, warned Abbott that the protesters are "on the verge" of ushering back in the anti-war mindset that saw brave troops "met with insults and derision when they came home" in the 1960s and '70s.
Ivins died in 2007 but one of her observations from an earlier decade, sadly, still applies: "When politicians start talking about large groups of their fellow Americans as 'enemies,' it's time for a quiet stir of alertness. Polarizing people is a good way to win an election, and also a good way to wreck a country."