Texas Gov. Abbott coddles right-wing conspiracy kooks

Paranoid stories of a U.S. Army takeover of Texas have riled the right wing

For a politician, standing up to terrorists is easy. Standing up to the paranoid kooks who vote for you is much harder. Just ask Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the junior senator from the Lone Star State, Ted Cruz.

The latest freak-out on the conservative fringe is in reaction to the Pentagon’s plans to conduct special forces training exercises in Texas and six other southwestern states. The military calls the operation “Jade Helm 15,” but the right wingers call it a nefarious scheme to occupy Texas and lock patriotic citizens inside interment camps conveniently located in empty Wal-Mart stores.

Texas-based right-wing radio ranter Alex Jones has been raising the alarm about this on his program for days. He says an Army map of the fictitious battlefield proves that Utah and Texas have been identified as enemy territory. Soon, federal troops will swarm out of secret underground tunnels and establish martial law, according to his scenario.

“Texas is listed as a hostile sector,” Jones warns. “Of course we are. We’re here defending the republic. This is in preparation for the financial collapse and maybe even Obama not leaving office. I mean, I’m telling you, this is so huge.”

So huge that it has riled up a mini-army of Texans who have demanded that their governor call out the Texas State Guard. In response, rather than telling everyone to calm down and get a grip on reality, Abbott has ordered the Texas guard to keep track of what the army is up to. For his part, Cruz checked with the Pentagon to see if they were about to take over his state. Assured by them that the military has no such plan, Cruz still expressed sympathy with his worried constituents instead of telling them all to turn off their radios and reconnect with the real world.

Wal-Mart has gone on record saying their closed stores are getting new plumbing, not a death camp makeover. Even former-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who once flirted with the idea of secession in response to federal intrusion into state affairs, said his successor, Abbott, has taken things too far.

For those who cling to the belief that dictatorship is looming, though, all the denials are just evidence of a cover-up. Chuck Norris, who once played a Texas Ranger on TV, remains suspicious. “What’s under question are those who are pulling the strings at the top of Jade Helm 15 back in Washington,” Norris wrote in an online column. “The U.S. government says, ‘It’s just a training exercise.’ But I’m not sure the term ‘just’ has any reference to reality when the government uses it.”

“Reality” is a curious term for Norris or any other of these conspiracy theorists to bandy about. As I wrote yesterday, true believers always prefer any wild fantasy that reinforces their ideology over mundane facts that deflate their understanding of what is true.

The dangerous knuckleheads who tried to shoot up a display of Muhammad cartoons in Garland, Texas, had their brains washed in the seductive mythology of jihad. A policeman with a steady hand and good aim brought their visions of paradise and martyrdom back to hard ground. That incident provided no such reality check for the people gathered inside the meeting room where they were giving prizes for images of Muhammad and drinking in the strident rhetoric of anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller. The aborted attack on their meeting was the best gift Islamic radicals could have given the anti-Muslim crowd. Everyone’s worst fears were reinforced.

Reinforcing fear is a lucrative business for people like Alex Jones and Pamela Geller. They make a ton of money telling people that all Muslims are bad, that the federal government is plotting to take your guns and that the president, who is quite possibly the Antichrist, intends to rob you of your liberty. That such rabble-rousers have built careers on peddling paranoia is galling. That so many people believe the things they say makes me doubt the human capacity for critical thinking. And that so many Republican elected officials play along with this nonsense proves that, for them, getting re-elected is far more important than standing up for objective reality and sane political debate.

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