COLUMBIA, S.C.—Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Saturday that he'd been hearing concerns about Jade Helm 15, a domestic military training exercise that has become a fount of conspiracy theories, and that he wanted questions about it to be answered.
"My office has reached out to the Pentagon to inquire about this exercise," Cruz, a Texas senator, told Bloomberg at the South Carolina Republican Party's annual convention. "We are assured it is a military training exercise. I have no reason to doubt those assurances, but I understand the reason for concern and uncertainty, because when the federal government has not demonstrated itself to be trustworthy in this administration, the natural consequence is that many citizens don't trust what it is saying."
The paranoia about Jade Helm, which started on websites like Alex Jones's InfoWars, had started with familiar fulmination about a mass seizure of firearms or a cover-up for American "death squads." This week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott channeled the concerns of voters in the Southwest, asking the Texas state guard to monitor the exercise for any violations of freedom. "It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed," said the governor.
Not every Republican was so concerned. Last week, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson that he'd "gotten a few questions" about Jade Helm and would "look at it." Today, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham told Bloomberg that he had never heard of the Jade Helm panic.
Cruz was more plugged in. "I have a great deal of faith and confidence in Governor Abbott," said the senator. "He is a long-time friend and mentor of mine. You know, I understand a lot of the concerns raised by a lot of citizens about Jade Helm. It's a question I'm getting a lot. And I think part of the reason is we have seen, for six years, a federal government disrespecting the liberty of the citizens. That produces fear, when you see a government that is attacking our free speech rights, or Second Amendment rights, or religious liberty rights. That produces distrust."
Later, in his speech to the convention, Cruz told South Carolina Republicans about his fights in Texas and Washington for religious liberty. The backlash to Indiana's religious-freedom law, he said, was a "perfect storm of the Democratic Party and big business coming together." Anyone who doubted that gay-marriage supporters could declare culture war on Christians needed only look at the 2014 fight between Houston pastors and a city that was trying to pass a gay rights ordinance.
"Just because you're paranoid," said Cruz, "doesn't mean they're not out to get you."