The Texas governor’s overreaction to upcoming U.S. military exercises has turned the state into a laughingstock, but might there be real risks from growing Pentagon involvement in protest policing?
Police watch over protests which erupted after the police killing of Michael Brown, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.
MINNEAPOLIS — Experts agree it’s unlikely that Obama is planning to invade Texas, or that the government is secretly using a network of tunnels built under Wal-Mart stores, but Americans should still worry about the effects of increasing militarization in their lives.
Slated to begin on July 15, Jade Helm 15 is a military training exercise that will take place in multiple states throughout the Southwest. The controversial exercise generated many fears about its real intentions. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott mobilized the National Guard earlier this month, apparently to quell fears that, “President Obama is about to use Special Forces to put Texas under martial law.” The decision was met with widespread criticism and satirical comment that even included other Republican party leaders like Rick Perry and John McCain.
While some of the more extreme theories stretch the boundaries of believability, they reflect real risks about the increasing presence of the military on U.S. soil and the increasing militarization of domestic security forces like the police. This is especially apparent in light of recent National Guard deployments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of police slayings of black Americans.
Hysteria over Jade Helm 15 has created increased government accountability where there is normally only secrecy. Congress previously failed in its attempts to investigate U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the division in charge of Jade Helm, and the Intercept’s Ryan Gallagher suggested, “very little is known about the scope and purpose of [SOCOM operations], given the extreme secrecy that often shrouds them.”
“Whom does this exercise serve: the American public? Special Forces soldiers training for some current or future mission? Defense contractors peddling new weapons for wars that are increasingly being fought by remote control?” asked Justin Peters in Slate on Monday.
“SOCOM surely wasn’t going to volunteer this information before the Jade Helmers began complaining, and while it still might not, there is at the very least more public attention now being paid to this organization, and that’s a good thing.”
The Pentagon thinks you’re a ‘potential terrorist’
The military won’t be taking over the Southwest in July, but the Pentagon’s plans to respond to civil unrest with military tactics are real, as national security scholar and investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed revealed last year in a report for The Guardian.
In 2008, the Department of Defense first funded the “Minerva Research Initiative,” an effort that continues today. Minerva’s efforts included examining “social contagions” in order to understand how protest movements grow, with researchers studying Twitter posts by participants in the Arab Spring and other revolutionary movements.
Ahmed criticized the work funded by Minerva for failing to differentiate between constitutionally-protected protest and armed insurrection, citing a recent project that “conflates peaceful activists with ‘supporters of political violence’ who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on ‘armed militancy’ themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists.”
The idea that this research might be linked to exercises like Jade Helm 15 or used against domestic groups is not unrealistic, either. Ahmed interviewed David Price, a St. Martin’s University anthropologist, who cited examples of Pentagon exercises designed to quell protest and free speech. Ahmed reported: “One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club.”
“Security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists,” concluded Ahmed, underscoring that it’s only through the outcry of journalists and regular citizens that we can protect our essential freedoms from military control.