Washington: American politics can sometimes border on the bizarre. Conspiracy theorists would have one believe that Democratic President Barack Obama is hatching a secret plot to invade the Republican-ruled southern American state of Texas and impose martial law?
Rumours gained traction after Texas Governor Greg Abbott vowing to "protect Texas" ordered the state militia to monitor a Pentagon training exercise called Operation Jade Helm 15 to be conducted this summer in five states, including Texas and Arizona.
Obama's 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Chairman, Monday mocked Abbott's order as "bizarre" joining other politicians of both hues who see unfounded paranoia in concerns of impending martial law.
"We have been having military exercises in the southwest for a couple of hundred years," noted McCain.
Laughing off Abbott's decision, he sarcastically warned the military to leave his home state of Arizona alone as well. "I'm sure the people of Texas feel much more secure," joked McCain.
While the Pentagon insists the states were picked because they have similar terrain to certain foreign countries, conspiracy theorists claim the mission might be the first step toward martial law or another rogue military action, according to Dallas Morning News.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has criticized Abbott for questioning the military, while House Armed Services committee's Republican chairman Mac Thornberry, called concerns "silly."
The Pentagon noting that war games are routinely conducted on American soil, has described the planned eight week operation as a "realistic military training exercise" and there is nothing menacing about Jade Helm.
But conspiracy theorists have sparked rumours that Obama is preparing to confiscate firearms, impose martial law, or even forcibly relocate citizens to FEMA internment camps, according to the Hill, a news site focusing on Congressional affairs.
Right-wing bloggers seized on the exercise, noting that the Army's own statement said, "the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart."
A map created for the simulated war games labeling parts of Republican states Texas and Utah as "hostile" areas and New Mexico as "uncertain (leaning hostile)" went viral, leading to theories Obama is cracking down on the West, the Hill reported.
A parallel theory suggested that closed Wal-Mart stores were being used to stage the operation, leading the retail giant to issue an official denial to Talking Points Memo.
"There is no truth to the rumors," a Wal-Mart spokesman told the website.
Abbott defended his move, saying it would inform the public, only to be met with a chorus of criticism with a former Republican state lawmaker saying Abbott was "pandering to idiots."
Asked at a press conference last week if the military was "planning to overtake Texas," Defence Secretary Ash Carter flatly replied "no" to laughter.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest too insisted Texans are safe and "I have no idea what he's (Abbot) thinking."