A group of civilian volunteers are planning to mobilize across several states in an effort to monitor federal troops during the contentious military training exercise — "Operation Jade Helm."
Organized by Pete Lanteri, a former Marine, "Counter Jade Helm" is comprised of more than 200 volunteers in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Southern California, Texas and Utah, according to the group's Facebook page with more than 6,000 likes.
"We're going to be watching what they do in the public," Lanteri told the Houston Chronicle. "Obviously on a military base they can do whatever they want. But if they're going to train on public land we have a right as American citizens to watch what they're doing."
Two Sikorsky Seahawk helicopters head to the USS Arlington during the NATO exercise Bold Alligator 2014, on October 31, 2014, off the east coast of the US. The international war games, Bold Alligator 2014, is about a rapid response for today's crises with 19 NATO countries participating with 17 ships and 2 submarines. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
The Houston Chronicle reported that the volunteers plan to monitor the drills — which include SEALs, Green Berets and Air Force Special Ops — as media has been prohibited from attending. Volunteers with Counter Jade Helm have instituted a strict no-camouflage policy, and while the volunteers will not be carrying any weapons, they will be armed with binoculars and spotting scopes so as to record the troops' activities, numbers and uniforms.
Then, volunteers will send the information — including the location of the drills — to the counter operation's headquarters in Arizona where a team of intelligence staff, some of whom the Houston Chronicle report as being former Army intelligence workers, will review the data and post it on their website.
As Lanteri, 44, oversees the entire surveillance operation from his home in Phoenix, Arizona, team leaders spread across the nine states will locate the sites where the Jade Helm operations are to take place and observe.
Eric Johnston, a firefighter and sheriff's deputy, will oversee the surveillance effort in the Texas towns of Bastrop, Big Spring and Junction on July 15. Johnston is in charge of roughly 20 volunteers — including a licensed pilot who plans to survey the operation from his plane.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the specific areas where these drills are to take place are unknown, which is where the volunteers come in handy.
"If a team member sees two Humvees full of soldiers driving through town, they're going to follow them," Johnston told the newspaper. "And they're going to radio back their ultimate location."
But Counter Jade Helm civilians won't be alone in their efforts to monitor what the federal troops are doing in the state of Texas. After hearing from multiple concerned Texans, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) asked the Texas Military to keep an eye on the troops and provide regular updates on the "progress and safety of the Operation," which will run from July 15 to September 15 in Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas and Utah.
Operation Jade Helm has notoriously resulted in numerous conspiracy theories about the exact nature of the drill, including the army's supposed goal to bring about martial law or the use of vacant Walmarts to secretly transport troops and supplies.
"That notion [that Operation Jade Helm was to prepare for a military takeover] was proposed by a few individuals who are unfamiliar with how and why USASOC conducts training exercises,” U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Lastoria said in an email to the Stars and Stripes. “This exercise is routine training to maintain a high level of readiness for Army Special Operations Forces because they must be ready to support potential missions anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.”
Lanteri said his group doesn't buy into the conspiracy theories, and he's tried to keep that rhetoric off of his Facebook page.
"Once I saw the freaking nut-jobs coming out of the woodwork I was spending half my day discrediting what they were posting," he told the Houston Chronicle. "No nut-jobs will be put in the field."
But even though Lanteri and his group doesn't buy into the more extreme theories about the training exercise, they and others — including actor Chuck Norris — still have questions about the operation.
In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, Army Special Operations promised to give state and local officials updates on the training exercise.
"This training exercise will go mostly unnoticed; not interfere with private citizens and not violate their privacy and rights," the statement said. "It will not disrupt their economies or livelihoods. State and local officials will receive updates as the exercise progresses and they are equally committed to ensuring the training occurs smoothly."