A U.S. Special Operation Command (SOCOM) military training exercise in seven southwestern states has triggered an outburst of right-wing conspiracy-mongering about “everything from a ploy to confiscate Americans’ guns to an excuse to abduct political dissidents.”
While these fears may be unfounded, even laughable, more people paying close attention to the Jade Helm 15 exercise is a good thing.
The trick is to separate what is driven by feverish hatred of President Obama (for expanding health care, for seeking to ban assault weapons, for winning two elections handily) and what is driven by appropriate worry about the national security state (for engaging in mass surveillance at home and waging perpetual war abroad).
So far Obama fever is prevailing.
The SOCOM slide show on Jade Helm, touted by the conspiracy theorists, is less than frightening. It portrays a training exercise for Green Berets, Navy SEALS, the 82nd Airborne for possible deployment to foreign countries where the population might be hostile, friendly or somewhere in between. It provides contact information, for interested citizens. This seems reasonable on its face, not a harbinger of federal “invasion.”
But vigilance isn’t inappropriate.
While liberal news sites scoff at “wing nuts” who interpret these ordinary activities as cover for something sinister, they often overlook the fact that the U.S. military does have a Northern Command, created in the wake of the Sept.11 attacks “to provide homeland defense and defense support of civil authorities.” Its motto is “Defending Our Homeland.”
It does not appear that Northcom has a role in Jade Helm 15 but it is worth noting that SOCOM now has a provisional command, SOCNORTH, which is part of Northcom.
Northcom engages in appropriate activities like fighting wild fires. It is also party to more problematic endeavors such a planning for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. In one recent exercise, Northcom contemplated a variety of “complex catastrophes,” such as a massive California earthquake, where “civil unrest, would require yet another federal agency to be brought in, such as the Department of Justice, to assist local authorities with that response.”
How the U.S. government — now empowered with NSA-collected metadata on almost every single U.S.citizen — would deploy the military on U.S. soil in times of national emergency is a matter of legitimate concern across the political spectrum. How the U.S. military would interact with local police departments, which are often heavily militarized and have targeted peaceful political dissidents, is also an important issue.
The culture of secrecy that now dominates the U.S. government demands no less. It is no conspiracy theory to note that the Obama administration has sanctioned the assassination of American civilians on foreign soil via a process that is almost completely secret.
When Senator Rand Paul asked questions in March 2013 about whether assassination of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil was possible, he received the vaguest of answers. Paul then launched a very popular filibuster on the Senate floor in which he said:
“The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that. The president says, I haven’t killed anyone yet. He goes on to say, and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might. Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that? Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a president to say he might kill Americans?”
We should not be so complacent. We should pay attention to government actions like Jade Helm 15 to insure that they conform to law, are transparent, enjoy public support, and do not contemplate or sanction the violation of constitutional rights.