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In Bastrop, most locals aren't sweating 'Jade Helm'

Troy Maholik, owner of Crosshairs Texas, says he's not worried about the military exercise called Operation Jade Helm.
Mose Buchele
Troy Maholik, owner of Crosshairs Texas, says he's not worried about the military exercise called Operation Jade Helm.

The military training exercise called “Operation Jade Helm 15” started today just outside of Bastrop. While military exercises and war games happen all the time, this one gained a lot of attention after conspiracy theorists started suggesting it was part of a plan to takeover Texas and institute martial law.

Those voices grew so loud that Gov. Greg Abbott even decided to assign the Texas State Guard to monitor the operation.  But, despite a contentious town hall meeting, many in Bastrop say they’re not worried about the exercise.

Ken Kesselus has a P.R. problem. When people talk about the Bastrop mayor’s town, he’d it to be about the good stuff — things like the shops on Main Street, and the grounds of the historic county courthouse where he stands under the shade of a pecan tree.

“Isn’t it great?” he asks.

Lately, however, some people are talking about the hubbub surrounding Jade Helm.

“It’s a little concerning,” Kesselus says. “When you make it on the Jon Stewart show, and it just looks like a bunch of yahoos and he just makes fun of you.”

To be precise, the terminology Stewart used on “The Daily Show” was “Lone Star lunatics.”

Mayor Kesselus says the attention is disconcerting. He says he doesn’t know anybody who’s really worried about Jade Helm, and the only phone call he’s received on it was from a guy in South Texas.

“I do think a lot of the people that have been stirring up angst about Jade Helm are people from other places,” he says.

Across the street, Blaze Hooper, a self-described metal worker and cobbler, says he’s opposed to the operation.

“I mean if any kind of crime shows up here — people getting knocked out in the street, people getting their homes broken into, people getting their cars stolen — you can just assume that’s not the local population,” he says. “That’s gotta be the federal government.”

Hooper says he reached that opinion after doing a lot of reading on the Internet. Asked if he realized there would be no military activity within the town, he says he was under the impression maneuvers would be in town.

“Well, if that’s the case that’s fine,” he says. “I mean it goes by and it finishes and nothing ever happened from it then right on fair enough.”

Further up the street Iona Benevidas was hanging out with her sister. She says she doesn’t see what all the fuss is about, that it’s not some complicated plot to take over Texas and that most Bastrop locals don’t.

“It’s not like they're going to be running down the street ‘Hup 234! Hup 234!’ Firing the gun, you know?” jokes another local, Woody Zimmerman.

He says there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about Jade Helm. He likened it to a children’s game he used to play called “Whisper Down the Alley.”

You whisper a word to a friend and “they whisper it to the next person to the next person to the next person,” he says. “Because every word we use, you and I are going to interpret it differently.”

At the Old Town Restaurant and Bar, a sign lists three simple rules: watch your language, no fighting, pay your tab, and “cut off means cut off.”  Of the eleven patrons there, only one said she was “nervous” about Jade Helm.

A few blocks away at Crosshairs Texas, owner Troy Maholik admits there is a faction of locals who believe the conspiracy stuff. From his counter at Cross Hairs, he’s heard the theories about gun confiscations and martial law, but he thinks it much ado about nothing.

“And if it was the start of martial law,” he jokes. “I’m not sure why it would be happening in Bastrop, Texas.”

Mose Buchele is the Austin-based broadcast reporter for KUT's NPR partnership StateImpact Texas . He has been on staff at KUT 90.5 since 2009, covering local and state issues. Mose has also worked as a blogger on politics and an education reporter at his hometown paper in Western Massachusetts. He holds masters degrees in Latin American Studies and Journalism from UT Austin.