March 1, 2009 in City

Spin Control: Guard training sparks a Web of far-fetched rumors

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A platoon of reservists from the 455th Engineering Co. took a walk down a street in Hayden last month and made a right turn into the blogosphere.

Once there, they inadvertently fanned the flame for folks worried that any minute now, the gummint’s coming to get their guns, yank down their Stars and Stripes, and make them put a hand on the Quran to swear allegiance to the New World Order. That wasn’t where the soldiers were headed when they left the Hayden Reserve Center during their one-weekend-a-month obligation on Feb. 8. They were trying to make do, after the heavy snow forced them to cancel the scheduled exercise, and their commander decided to go to Plan B.

“We had three platoons, on three different routes, practicing patrolling streets,” said 1st Lt. Nick Sinclair, the company commander. “We’re a reserve unit, and the guys were just walking outside the Reserve Center for training. We don’t have our own training area.”

Their practice consisted of marching in almost full gear along streets, which is what they might be doing in Afghanistan in a couple of years. So some Hayden residents would’ve seen about a dozen guys in full packs and camos, carrying M-16s, moving along either shoulder of their street.

There is a wide range of comments that people might have uttered upon looking out the window. They probably range from “Maude. We’re being invaded. Get the guns,” to “Look honey, those nice young men down at the reserve center must be having their training weekend. Should we take them out a Thermos of coffee?”

Now admittedly, if Lt. Sinclair or other folks with stripes or bars over at 455th HQ had been thinking logically, they might’ve taken steps to inform people in the neighborhood around the reserve center that they’d be out doing an exercise, like they’ve done in some years past.

They didn’t, and now the folks higher up the command structure seem to be chewing on their tails a bit. The higher brass is definitely saying it won’t happen this way again.

“In the future, they will understand that they have to alert the public prior to doing something like that,” said Capt. Mary Aaron, a public affairs officer at the 416th Engineering Command, which is several links up the chain of command. Folks are watching even farther up, at U.S. Army Reserve Command, she added.

The 455th will have an open house in the coming months, invite the neighbors to the reserve center so that everyone can find out what the unit does, and possibly realize that the guy in the camouflage uniform on Sunday is the guy at the supermarket on Monday or the muffler shop on Tuesday.

Not that this caused huge consternation in Hayden that Sunday. No one actually decided that the town was being invaded and opted to go down fighting. The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office got one call – one – reporting “suspicious activity” around the reserve center that morning, Capt. Ben Wolfinger said.

But someone who was driving through the neighborhood happened to take a couple of photos of the soldiers, and gave the photos to his mother-in-law, who posted them on a Web site belonging to Steve Quayle. The site offers everything from a map of cities most at risk for a terrorist attack (Spokane has a big red dot, but Hayden and the rest of Idaho are in the clear) to an explanation of how giants lived on Earth in biblical times to stories of the current financial meltdown. The pictures of the Hayden reservists were Quayle’s picture of the day Feb. 10, along with the mother-in-law’s query of whether it was “just training or getting the people used to seeing troops patrolling the streets.”

From there it was a hop, skip and a data dump to other sites that posted the pictures and opened discussion on whether this was just the new administration’s way of getting the populace used to seeing armed troops in the streets before declaring martial law.

Because, obviously, if martial law is declared, the administration is going to be most concerned about an uprising in Hayden.

To those who think this sounds far-fetched … well, it is. But that doesn’t keep sites like infowars.com, waronyou.com, campaignforliberty.com and dozens of others from kicking around these and other explanations of this “photo evidence.” Put “soldiers marching in Hayden” into your Web search engine and you’ll get at least 300 hits.

Not sure if that qualifies the platoon’s exercise as “going viral,” but some comments on the Web do have the brass up the chain concerned. Those would be comments about linking everything back to Barack Obama’s election and everything being a conspiracy and threatening harm to the soldiers, Aaron said.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s office in Coeur d’Alene also received some calls, spokesman Lindsay Nothern said last week. Not at the beginning of February when the exercise took place, but more recently, as the pictures re-circulated on the Web. The rumor, he said, is that this is connected to some kind of plan for the government to take everyone’s guns away.

Just about anything about gun control will start a rumor like that, Nothern said. There’s nothing to it and no connection to the guys in the picture.

But isn’t that what we expect him to say? You know, right up to the point when they come to take your guns?

Spin Control is a weekly political column by Jim Camden, who can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or jimc@spokesman.com. See a photo of the reservists in Hayden, along with other political items and videos, online at www.spokesman.com/blogs/ spincontrol.


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