The U.S. military has been very active in Michigan and around the country this summer.
The Pentagon insists it’s just routine training. But others see something more sinister at work.
The ground shook as Apache helicopters fired rounds of ammunition and A-10 airplanes dropped 500 pound bombs on targets while soldiers on the ground move into positions during a training exercise at Camp Grayling.
More than 3,000 soldiers and airmen have been taking part Operation Northern Strike, a two-week-long training exercise which wraps up today.
“In terms of level of complexity, this is about as complex an operation you can plan and execute,” says Major General Greg Vadnais, the head of Michigan’s National Guard. “This is PhD level work being done here today.”
Military leaders say the stepped up training is important, especially for a shrinking military.
Among those observing Operation Northern Strike was four-star general Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon. He oversees the nation’s National Guard units.
“The National Guard probably by 2019 will be the smallest National Guard we’ve been since 1955, and our Army and Air Force are getting smaller,” Grass says, “So we have to be ready even faster than we’ve been before.”
People who live near Camp Grayling are used to sounds of war in their own backyards. But others in Michigan also got a taste of urban warfare training.
The U.S. Army conducted more secretive exercises in June in several other Michigan cities, rattling windows and nerves in Flint when explosions rang out without prior warning. And a helicopter blew bricks off a building in Port Huron, damaging the awning below.
Michigan’s not alone. Many parts of the U.S. are seeing military exercises this summer.
The biggest exercise, called Jade Helm 15, prompted some groups to claim something more sinister is afoot.
“Whether it's drones, or the billions of bullets, the emergency FEMA camps, the preparations to attack the Tea Party and veterans, or the veterans' secret death lists or don’t treat lists,” says Alex Jones, counting down a long list of threats he sees the federal government posing.
Jones’ Infowars website is an influential source for people who don’t trust the federal government. This summer’s military exercises, including those in Michigan, are on his mind.
“People are coming up to me on the street, saying ‘Is it true martial law is coming? Have you heard about this?’ They don’t even know that we’re where the story came from,” Jones told his listeners. “They’re asking me if it’s true. No, they’re not going to take over this summer…probably.”
“The idea that these exercises are preludes to imposing martial law are completely hogwash,” says Mark Potok, with the Southern Poverty Law Center. The center tracks hate groups in the United States.
Potok says radical right wing groups have been warning about the federal government arresting ‘patriotic’ Americans for decades. And those fears are often fanned by large-scale military exercises. He says it’s a message that is not confined to extremist chat rooms on the internet.
“While I don’t think millions and millions of citizens believe this, there are quite a few who do,” says Potok, “And they are not all people who are in radical groups or have extreme radical right ideologies.”
Eventually, this summer’s military exercises will come to an end.
And in all likelihood, the federal government will not round up and arrest Tea Party members, impose martial law in parts of Texas or any of the other claims made by the some Jade Helm 15 critics.
But Mark Potok with the Southern Poverty Law Center does not expect the critics to say they were “wrong.” In fact, he expects them to take credit for the fact none of those things happened.
“That’s the nature of conspiracy theories,” says Potok, “Just as it is the nature of religionist profit-types who say the world is ending next Tuesday. There’s always a reason why that didn’t happen. But it’s again coming in the near future.”
Potok expects the extreme right wing blogs will soon start talking about the next big military exercise and how it will be much worse.