Former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden recently made an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” where he commented that conspiracy theories surrounding Special Operations Command’s Jade Helm training exercise were stirred up by Russian influence agents.
Jade Helm was an unconventional warfare training exercise run across the southwestern portion of America by the U.S. military. The exercise mostly consisted of Special Forces and SEAL units but other conventional units also participated.
While Jade Helm was a particularly large-scale exercise, such “realistic military training” is routine and conducted on yearly training schedules. However, a series of conspiracy theories swirled around Jade Helm in particular in 2015, many of them propagated by Alex Jones of Infowars. The theories vary, but most revolve around a secret government plot to round up dissidents and impose martial law, essentially a re-skinning of FEMA camp conspiracies that have been around at least since the 1990s.
On “Morning Joe,” Hayden stated the conspiracy theories were the result of, “Russian bots and the American alt-right media [that] convinced many Texans [Jade Helm] was an Obama plan to round up political dissidents.” At the time, alt-right had not necessarily entered into the American lexicon per se, but this was likely a reference to Alex Jones. Hayden went on to say an alleged Russian influence operation around Jade Helm to discredit the U.S. government was used as a test bed for the type of information warfare waged during the 2016 election. Hayden offered no proof of this claim.
Jade Helm makes for an unsurprising target for Russian influence agents seeking to exploit fissures in American culture. There is some evidence Russian propaganda has been directed at the U.S. military and veterans in particular. Evidence has also been presented that Russia did, in fact, wage an information operation against voters during the 2016 election, but proof they were behind Jade Helm conspiracies as well is not forthcoming.
At the time of the exercise, conspiracy theories reached such a fever pitch that Texas Governor Greg Abbot ordered the state’s National Guard to monitor Jade Helm, implying the U.S. military could not be trusted.