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A former national security chief asserted in an MSNBC interview that Russian bots helped feed a furor in 2015 leading Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to assign troops to observe Jade Helm 15, a multi-state federal military exercise.
Hayden’s declaration reminded us that in June 2015, we found Half True a factual claim in the satirical Doonesbury comic strip that Abbott "activated the state guard to monitor" Jade Helm 15 "in case the troops try to impose martial law, disarm innocent Texans, and detain them in tunnels beneath closed Walmart stores."
Abbott, a Republican elected governor the November before, had told the Texas State Guard (not the National Guard) to monitor and communicate about the Jade Helm operation, which was to run from July 2015 into September 2015 throughout the Southwest—including parts of Bastrop County near Austin—and include special forces units from multiple armed services, such as Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs.
At the time, some eyebrows squinched in reaction to a map for the exercise that came public labeling Texas, Utah and California as "hostile" for training purposes. In April 2015, an Army representative faced numerous hostile questions at a Central Texas meeting. Over two hours, Bastrop-area residents made it clear to Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria of the U.S. Army they had qualms about the exercise being a way for federal forces to take over Texas and much of the Southwest.
The day after that meeting, Abbott announced he’d told the all-volunteer Texas State Guard to monitor the exercise, though aides said he was not buying into conspiracy theories. Amelia Chasse, an Abbott spokeswoman, was quoted in the Houston Chronicle saying Abbott "deeply trusts and respects the United States military."
By email, Garry Trudeau, the award-winning creator and author of Doonesbury, told us he based the claim in his strip on Abbott’s directive to the Guard commander that it monitor the exercise "to address concerns of Texas citizens." Trudeau said: "Those ‘concerns,’ expressed in town meetings with the Army, came in the form of highly entertaining conspiracy theories. I included my favorite, although it’s possible the Governor’s actions were prompted by an even nuttier one."
"I make no claim as to when or if Guardsmen will report for duty," Trudeau further said, "just that Abbott directed the Guard to be activated for monitor duties, per his letter."
Abbott indeed wrote a letter, dated April 28, 2015, telling the Guard commander, Major General Gerald "Jake" Betty, to keep an eye on the Jade Helm 15 exercise. That day, Abbott’s office released the letter with a press release stating the governor had delivered the same guidance to Betty in person.
Abbott’s letter did not say the Guard was being activated or deployed. It did say:
"To address concerns of Texas citizens and to ensure that Texas communities remain safe, secure and informed about military procedures occurring in their vicinity, I am directing the Texas State Guard to monitor Jade Helm 15.
"During the Operation’s eight-week training period… I expect to receive regular updates on the progress and safety of the Operation.
"During the training operation, it is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed. By monitoring the Operation on a continual basis, the State Guard will facilitate communications between my office and the commanders of the Operation to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect Texans."
Noting U.S. military officials had assured Texas that locations chosen for the exercise would pose no risk to residents or property, Abbott added: "Directing the State Guard to monitor the Operation will allow Texas to be informed of the details of military personnel movements and training exercise schedules, and it will give us the ability to quickly and effectively communicate with local communities, law enforcement, public safety personnel and citizens."
His letter closed by stating "the action I take today" comes with support and respect for the nation’s troops. "I remain certain," Abbott wrote, "that our military members will keep America the freest and strongest nation the world has ever known."
Six days later, Abbott told reporters "someone has to be in charge with gathering and disseminating information," the Associated Press reported. "We stepped in to play that role, which is a role to be applauded," Abbott said.
Asked whether addressing the issue legitimized fringe theories, Abbott said no. He said he was responding to citizen questions, which he said the government has an obligation to answer. "I've seen nothing that would cause anybody to worry about what's going on," Abbott said.
We otherwise found no sign that the State Guard had been activated.
A bit later, PolitiFact posted this story describing Jade Helm 15 in detail.
Fact-check, "Doonesbury says Greg Abbott activated Texas State Guard in case of federal martial law and more," PolitiFact Texas, June 19, 2015
Story, "What is Jade Helm 15?," PolitiFact, July 15, 2015