Does this tin foil hat make me look crazy? On the limits of mocking Texas

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Good morning Austin:

When I worked at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the paper would list the top on-line commenters. Often, topping the list was TinFoilHatGuy. I’m sure his parents were very proud.

But clicks and comments, in this new age, are a metric of success and so, putting aside the merits of what he had to say – which, as I recall, was generally well above average in what is not always the most salutary forum – all that really mattered was what that, day in and day out, he commented, and provoked other comments.

Last night I went to NOLA.com to check on TinFoilHatGuy, and found him missing. When I did a search, it seemed he was gone, or, at any rate, has stopped commenting. In fact, it appears that he may have stopped contributing to NOLA.com even before I did.

What could have happened? Why did he stop?

And then it hit me. He’s probably moved. Like a Triple A player being called up to the Big Leagues, he’s probably Gone to Texas.

National ridicule of Texas – and its tin foil hat governor – continued unabated through the end of last week for his April 28 letter “directing the Texas State Guard to monitor operation Jade Helm 15.”

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On Friday, it was Chris Hayes’ show, All In, on MSNBC – Jade Helm 15 divides Texas GOP.

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Guests included Todd Smith, the former Republican state representative from Texas, who had issued a scathing letter to Abbott, excoriating him for “pandering to idiots.:

Asked to explain the governor’s motives, Smith said the Republican Party has lurched right since he as first elected in the late 1990s, and that Abbott has to worry about the ambitions of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who is even further to the right.

“It’s rumored that the lieutenant governor looks in the mirror at night and sees himself governor,” Smith said. “So we have a lieutenant governor that used to be a radio talk show host, a governor who is very close to Ted Cruz, wo is concerned about apparently a run from this right. and what that means is  we have is thse two elected officials who are in a race to the furthest extreme right of the Republican Party and that’s the context in which his statement was made last week.”

And there was a clip of Abbott, who was in Washington last week for the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast and taped some comments Friday with the NBC affiliate after a CNBC appearance, as played on Hayes’ show:

I think the cause of the underlying concerns is that we see incidences like a shooting at Fort Hood by a terrorist that the President labels workplace violence. We see the president come to the border in Texas and say, it’s safer than it’s ever been, only to have a record number of people crossing the border, coming into the state of Texas.

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As Abbott’s comments rolled, he was helpfully identified as a purveyor of “paranoia politics.”

But, by then, I had already had it with the national obsession with Jade Helm.

It was while watching Rachel Maddow’s Wednesday night show – Fearful Texas GOP base amuses nation with conspiracy panic – at the point at which she declared, “It’s High-Larious, with a capital Funyun.”

That was it. I bristled. I said something out loud back at Rachel Maddow’s image on my TV set. Her preening joy at mocking Texas got to me. After two-and-a-half years in Texas, I was feeling defensive.

This was nothing but ratings bait. They were pumping this story up, keeping it alive, blowing it out of proportion, because it brought a self-satisfied rise out of their audience. This was paranoia porn.

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The next day, I did an on-air interview with WDEL radio station in Wilmington, Delaware, with news anchor Allan Loudell, on Jade Helm, and why Gov. Abbott did what he did, and, at one point I heard myself saying, “Paranoids are people too.”

On Friday, Gail Collins had a column in the New York Times, The Alamo and Walmart:

It began:

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 Walmart 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.

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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.

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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.

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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,” Senator Ted Cruz, and presidential candidate, told Bloomberg Politics.

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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 Walmart.

Take the good news where you can get it. Thanks, Utah.

OK. Enough. Every time someone laughs at Texas, Gail Collins makes a ha’penny. In 2012 she wrote, As Texas Goes … How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Dream. I read it as prep before moving here and, while I like Gail Collins a lot, I was disappointed. It seemed formulaic, pat.

Of course it was well blurbed, the first “praise for” on the back cover from none other than Rachel Maddow:

Gail Collins is the funniest political commentator in America. Reading As Texas Goes … is pure pleasure from page one.

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UT’s Jim Henson reviewed the book for Texas Monthly.

Collins, for all her wit, epitomizes a coastal take on Texas that frowns on the state’s political ideology even as it misses the underlying politics that actually explain things. And there are real consequences to this sort of blithe indifference.

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So it’s disappointing to open Collins’s new book, As Texas Goes …  How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda (Norton/Liveright, $25.95), and discover that it deploys pretty much the same tone as her Times columns. I know people (usually from other states) who adore Collins’ style, but I suspect that even the fans who enthusiastically email me links to her latest Texas takedowns will admit that the devices that pep up an eight-hundred-word column become tiresome over the course of a two-hundred-page book. As Texas Goes is chock-full of jokey little asides, like adding a perky “Just sayin’!” after noting that Texan presidents have gotten the U.S. into several wars. Too often, it’s not enough for Collins to point out how wrong she thinks Texas’s policies are; she labors to underline how obviously ridiculous Texas’s policies are.

And now, adding insult to injury, Texas, by Collins’ lights, must eat Utah’s level-headed dust.

Utah. Utah? Utah!

At least Texas Remembers the Alamo. Does Utah not remember The Utah War?

Here from Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Utah War from an official LDS student manual on church history:

The Latter-day Saints considered themselves loyal American citizens and were indignant when they heard a large army was on its way west to put down a “Mormon rebellion.” Recalling the persecutions of earlier years, the settlers feared being driven once again from their homes. For the next few months the Saints prepared to defend themselves. Church leaders and members alike were unwilling to suffer oppression again.

Two issues were at the center of the Church’s conflict with the federal government: the Saints’ practice of plural marriage and the Church’s control of the Utah territorial government. When Utah reapplied for statehood in 1856 and ran into stiff opposition, the “Mormon question” entered national politics.

The national Republican party was founded in 1854 as a staunchly anti-slavery party and fielded its first presidential candidate in 1856. In its platform it urged Congress to prohibit in the territories the twin relics of barbarism—polygamy and slavery. The Democrats, not wishing to imply support of polygamy by their support of slavery, denounced the Mormons as vehemently as the Republicans did. Successful Democratic candidate James Buchanan vowed during his presidential campaign that if elected he would replace Brigham Young as governor of Utah.

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After pondering how to meet this “invasion,” Church leaders in early August issued a broadside proclamation to the citizens of Utah:

“We are invaded by a hostile force, who are evidently assailing us to accomplish our overthrow and destruction. …

“… The government has not condescended to cause an investigating committee, or other persons to be sent, to inquire into and ascertain the truth, as is customary in such cases. …

“The issue which has thus been forced upon us, compels us to resort to the great first law of self-preservation, and stand in our own defense and right, guaranteed unto us by the genius of the institutions of our country, and on which the government is based. Our duties to ourselves and families requires us not to tamely submit to be driven and slain, without an attempt to preserve ourselves. Our duty to our country, our holy religion, our God, to freedom and liberty, requires that we shall not quietly stand still.”

The broadside proclaimed three intentions: to forbid all armed forces from coming into Utah Territory on whatever pretense, to hold all forces in Utah in readiness to repel any invasion, and to declare martial law in the territory.

Brigham Young then mustered the territorial militia and ordered that no grain or other staple be sold to passing immigrants or speculators. He ordered the building of fortifications and also selected raiding parties to harass the army and supply trains. He also sent a group known as the White Mountain Expedition to find another suitable location for settlement, should the Saints have to abandon their homes.

From a 2011 essay in Salon in which Glenn W. LaFantasie argued that James Buchanan surpassed George W. Bush as the worst president ever:

The army blundered its mission, and the Mormons fought an effective guerrilla campaign against the federal troops. Eventually, Buchanan felt the heat of political pressure to end the so-called Mormon War, and a peaceful end to the fiasco. True to form, however, Buchanan claimed credit for a victory in Utah.
And from David L. Bigler and Will Bagley, The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-1858:
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Not until the events of 11 September 2001 did we fully realize the present need for a balanced and accurate reinterpretation of this forgotten struggle [the Utah War]. The United States finds itself engaged in a battle with theocrats, engaging fanatics who are much more dangerous and perhaps even more committed than the religious rulers who had imposed what President James Buchanan called ‘a strange system of terrorism’ on the people of Utah Territory. . . . We hope that some good will come from an honest look at the Utah rebellion of 1857-58, and at the problems the American republic faced and the mistakes it made when it first wrestled with theocracy (xi).

Amid the war hysteria, came what an LDS Church historian told NPR was “the worst event in Latter-day Saint history” – the Mountain Meadows Massacre:

On Sept. 11, 1857, a Mormon militia in southern Utah seized a wagon train from Arkansas and brutally murdered 120 people. Soon after, records of the event were destroyed and Mormon leaders attempted a cover-up. The “Mountain Meadows Massacre” still troubles the descendants of both the attackers and victims.

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U.S. Army troops were on their way to Utah, presumably to wrest control from the Mormon-dominated territorial government and to subdue Mormons practicing polygamy. Mormon leaders warned that passing wagon trains could be in league with the Army. They ordered Mormon settlements to save grain, grazing land, weapons, ammunition and supplies for themselves, and not to share with non-Mormons headed to California.

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In 1857, and for many years afterward, the attack was blamed on Paiute Indians.

OK, so while Texans remember the Alamo, Utahns, it seems, are about forgetting the past.

Now back to the present day.

From Amy Davidson in the New Yorker, under the headline, Unclear Dangers.

In the past few weeks, a certain map has been causing a lot of discussion online and, particularly, in Texas. It shows seven states in the Southwest color-coded as red and “hostile” (Texas, Utah), or blue and “permissive” (California, Colorado, Nevada), or designated “uncertain” but leaning toward hostile (New Mexico) or toward friendly (Arizona). The map also features a circle zeroing in on Texas and acronyms associated with the military. To numerous observers, its meaning is clear: it is a plan for a U.S. military takeover of Texas and beyond, or, perhaps, a rehearsal for civil war and the enforcement of martial law. Resistance is anticipated in some areas, such as the part of Southern California marked as an “insurgent pocket.”

The Pentagon quickly explained that the map was actually a prop in a large-scale but routine training exercise called Jade Helm 15, scheduled to take place this summer. Blue and red are standard colors on war-game maps and unconnected to, say, voting patterns. But the theorists were unpersuaded, and the code name seemed to excite them further. (Jade—a reference to China?) Some pointed to several Walmart stores that had abruptly closed and might now, they said, be used as internment camps run by FEMA (Walmart says it isn’t so—sometimes stores just close.)

The matter might have been dismissed as another one of those things that happen on the Internet if Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, had not sprung into action. In a Facebook post from April 28th, he wrote, “I’ve ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15 to safeguard Texans’ constitutional rights, private property, and civil liberties.” Some other Texas politicians seemed eager to show that they, too, were not the sort to take hints of martial law lightly. Last week, Senator Ted Cruz told a reporter at a Republican Party convention in South Carolina that his office had “reached out to the Pentagon,” and Senator John Cornyn obtained a private briefing from a three-star general; both legislators reported being satisfied that, in this instance, at least, Texas was not in danger from the United States.

 

Well, Ok. That’s right as far as it goes. But there is something missing between paragraphs 3 and 4 that would have provided critical context.

From David McSwane, in Sunday’s American-Statesman, an excellent story that provides an important corrective.

BASTROP — The official slogan of Operation Jade Helm 15, “Master the Human Domain,” is just one of many oddities surrounding the eight-week Pentagon training that’s fomented anger and suspicion in Bastrop County and other rural parts of Texas.

In bile-green text, the phrase is placed beneath the operation’s logo of a dagger, two crossed arrows and a translucent wooden clog — yes, a clog — all of which have become fodder for widespread, baseless conspiracy theories that the Army Special Operations Command is planning a martial law takeover of Texas come July.

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Theories aside, the lingo points to an underlying objective of Jade Helm: The mastery of an emerging Special Forces doctrine called the “human domain,” a renewed push to study the “social and economic conditions” in conflict zones following lessons learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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You have to understand the human terrain — Who do I talk to? Where do I go?” said Paul Floyd, a senior military analyst for Stratfor, a global intelligence firm based in Austin. “You have to put yourself in their shoes as people and understand their motivations. Jade Helm is essentially practicing that.”

Floyd, a former Army Ranger who led a Special Operations squad on 35 missions in Afghanistan, said such training is crucial to better prepare troops for unconventional warfare, where it’s not always easy to tell civilians from soldiers, good guys from bad guys.

Mizzy Zdroj on her burned property in Bastrop on Wednesday May 6, 2015. Zdroj, who is the assistant chief of the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department, is concerned that the upcoming Jade Helm 15 military exercise will cause more grief to many Bastrop residents who are still recovering form the devastating wildfire of 2011. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Mizzy Zdroj on her burned property in Bastrop on Wednesday May 6, 2015. Zdroj, who is the assistant chief of the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department, is concerned that the upcoming Jade Helm 15 military exercise will cause more grief to many Bastrop residents who are still recovering form the devastating wildfire of 2011. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Lingering trauma

Before the 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire, towering lost pines blocked out the sunlight.

But now the sparsely populated Heart of the Pines neighborhood is a naked swath of charred stumps and half-built homes where the people are on edge and the wind still smells like campfire. More than once, the fire-orange glow of a sunset has sent mothers running to swoop up their children or to call 911.

Mizzy Zdroj, 47, cries as she explains: The collective trauma of those who survived the most destructive wildfire in Texas history is the missing context in the hysteria surrounding Jade Helm.

“Our lives were splayed open, just like the forest was,” says Zdroj, an assistant chief with the volunteer fire department.

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“The way it’s been playing out is that this place has lost its rocks or something,” she says. “People aren’t crazy around here. People have just been through a lot.”

“You have to be careful when you take things to a place that’s had mass trauma,” Zdroj says. “You’re going to get a reaction.”

Mass trauma. Mass trauma.

Oh, like Hurricane Katrina.

From Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit the December following the storm: Were the levees bombed in New Orleans?  Ninth Ward residents give voice to a conspiracy theory

It’s become a strongly held belief by some in the storm zone —  the idea that the destruction of New Orleans’ heavily poor, heavily black Ninth Ward was neither an accident nor an act of nature.

Dyan French, also known as “Mama D,” is a New Orleans Citizen and Community Leader.  She testified before the House Select Committee on Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday.

“I was on my front porch.  I have witnesses that they bombed the walls of the levee, boom, boom!” Mama D said, holding her head. “Mister, I’ll never forget it.”

“Certainly appears to me to be an act of genocide and of ethnic cleansing,” Leah Hodges, another New Orleans citizen, told the committee.

Similar statements, sometimes couched as rumors, have also been voiced by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the nation of Islam, and director Spike Lee.

“I don’t find it too far-fetched,” Lee said in a recent television interview, “that they try to displace all the black people out of New Orleans.”

Harvard’s Alvin Pouissant says such conspiracy theories are fueled by years of government neglect and discrimination against blacks: slavery, segregation and the Tuskegee experiments, during which poor blacks were used to test the effects of syphilis.

“If you’re angry and you’ve been discriminated against,” Pouissant says, “then your mind is open to many ideas about persecution, abandonment, feelings of rejection.”

  The latest theory is partly rooted in historical fact. In 1927, the levees were bombed to save parts of the city, and black neighborhoods were inundated.

But independent engineers investigating levee failures during Katrina say that’s not what happened this time.

Oh dear. What about American history could possibly make black people paranoid? Answer: American history.

Also appearing on Chris Hayes show on Friday was Jesse Walker of Reason Magazine, the author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory.

Paranoia aside, Walker said, “there are very good reasons not to want to have military training exercises in your community,” particularly a place like Bastrop, which had lost 700 homes to wildfires in the very recent past.

People worry about having far less consequential things going on in their backyard, he said.

As Walker, wrote in the Los Angels Times:

Jade Helm’s defenders point out that this is hardly the first time the military has trained soldiers on civilian soil. The flip side is that this is hardly the first time Americans have objected. One example is Operation Urban Warrior, a 1999 Marine Corps exercise in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some locals were so angry about it that they staged a sit-in at the office of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown.

The opposition in 1999 tended to come from the left, not the right. But the complaints were similar in character.

There were concerns about noise and disruption and pollution. There was fear of an increasingly militarized America. And then as now, that fear produced conspiracy theories. The San Francisco Bay Guardian, one of the area’s two leading alt-weeklies at the time, ran an article arguing that the Urban Warrior trainees were “preparing themselves to contain popular uprisings — including uprisings in U.S. cities.”

It’s easy to dismiss the theories embraced by nervous people. But that doesn’t mean you should dismiss the reasons they’re nervous in the first place. Sometimes even paranoids have a point.

 

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