27 Apr 2015 at 14:17 ET
Concerned citizens confronted county and military officials Monday in Texas over the planned Jade Helm 15 training exercise that has ignited fears of a military takeover.
Elite forces from all four branches of the military will take part in the July 15-Sept. 15 operation in seven states across the southwest, where role players will stand in for hostile and less-hostile forces.
Residents packed the Bastrop County Commission, where a U.S. Army spokesman answered questions while an overflow crowd watched from downstairs on closed-circuit television.
Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria tried to assure the crowd that no intelligence would be gathered on non-participants, no property would be confiscated, and no psychological operations would be conducted.
Participants were torn between their respect for the military and their suspicion of the Obama administration, and they frequently expressed concern that they had not been notified about the exercise until conspiracy theories began circulating on social media.
The recent closing of five Walmart stores sparked fears that those stores would be converted into detention centers or link to underground tunnels to transport troops.
Lastoria said “an extra minute of research” would show that those stores were each involved in labor disputes, although the retailer blames plumbing issues.
He also frequently pointed out that troops would be transported during the exercise by rented vehicles traveling by road.
Most of the Jade 15 operations will take place on private property with the expressed approval of the landowner, although one participant asked why residents weren’t permitted to vote on it.
“I don’t understand why you would vote on private land use,” Lastoria said.
He said these private landowners were notified of the operation by word of mouth, which prompted chuckles from the crowd, and he said many of them were connected to the military or were veterans.
Most of the role players are also service members or somehow connected to the military, he said, adding that troops should be able to spot them because their clothing might stand out in Texas.
“I said it before and people didn’t believe me,” Lastoria said. “They dress differently in Fort Hill, North Carolina. They just do – it’s bizarre.”
The Army spokesman assured participants that the United Nations was not involved in the operations, but the crowd jeered when he told them he was not familiar with Agenda 21 – another conspiracy theory.
One man stood up to ask a series of increasingly specific questions about what would happen to protesters who disrupted Jade Helm exercises and whether the operations would be suspended.
“I would find it bizarre that someone would violate someone’s private property to make a personal statement,” Lastoria said.
Watch portions of the public forum posted online by AlexJonesLive:
[ustream id=61624714 hwaccel=1 version=3 width=480 height=302]
Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
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