Friends Or Foes? Bastrop Residents Divided Over Jade Helm Troops
Bastrop (pop. 7,218) is the namesake seat of a conservative Republican county. Quaint shops and restaurants line streets that surround a historic courthouse.
At lunchtime, Maxine’s Café, in the town’s historic district, draws a hungry crowd.
But today, Harvey Hanson has more on his mind than the meatloaf on the menu. He’s concerned about the Jade Helm military training starting at Camp Swift outside of Bastrop and on private land nearby.
“I do think it’s a concern that we don’t know all the details yet and now they’ve kept the media away and that’s even a bigger concern,” Hanson says.
Hanson isn't buying what military officials have labeled as a simple two-month training exercise occurring in Texas and six other states.
“I think there is probably some larger event coming, could be another 9/11, which would certainly lead to martial law. I think that’s the concern that most people have, having the military in our community, we’ve just never seen it before,” Hanson reasons.
Out on the square, Hugh Sistrunk is taking care of a few errands on his lunch break. He attended the April commissioner court hearing in Bastrop where military officials attempted to address concerns coming from residents who generally hold anti-Washington views. Neither the public or media will be allowed to observe the Jade Helm training. That makes Sistrunk suspicious.
“I’m former military. I’ve held operations in other parts of the country, other areas overseas, this is completely out-of-the-realm of a normal operation and that’s what breeds distrust,” Sistrunk says.
Volunteers calling themselves Counter Jade Helm plan to be in Bastrop monitor the military training. The group’s organizer, Pete Landteri, says they will not be wearing fatigues or carrying guns. But they plan to secretly videotape military personnel coming and going from the staging areas.
“People they just want to be left alone, so when they hear the military is coming in and then they hear there’s people coming in to watch the military, they think there’s going to be a chance to have a confrontation. But again we’re not going to be armed, we’re not going to be interfering with anything the military is doing, we’re strictly going to be a watchdog group when you think about it. There’s other groups that watch what the federal government does already,” Landteri explains.
But not everyone living and working in and around Bastrop are worried. On the other side of the town square sits Crosshairs Texas, a local gun shop located next to a washateria. The gun shop’s owner Troy Michalik says there’s been no shortage of conspiracy theories suggested by his customers, but he dismisses them.
“The common conspiracy theories are start of martial law, end of the free world as we know type of stuff and I’m not buying into that. I think if it was going to be start of martial law it would be done a little more covertly done than announcing, 'Hey we’re doing an exercise in your area,'" Michalik says.
Bastrop’s Mayor, Ken Kesselus, tends to agree.
“This is an old, old mature town. We’ve seen a lot of things come and go, we’re not likely to get excited about something like this. That’s one thing, we don’t like radical stuff. And there’s nothing radical about [Jade Helm] but there may be about the protest,” Kesselus says.
Kesselus, the city’s police chief and county sheriff have a crowd control plan in place and officers standing by, if “anything gets out of hand.”
What he envisions is troops with Jade Helm 15 spending their money with local merchants while they are here.
Governor Greg Abbott seemed to feed some of the conspiracy concerns several months ago when he ordered the state guard to monitor the training. His office says he’s deploying 4 to 5 members of the Guard from Camp Mabry in Austin to relay information about the training exercise to his office. The Governor’s office plans to provide daily updates for the public on his official website.