*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
DALLAS — Former Gov. Rick Perry said Tuesday citizens should trust the military amid concerns about a training exercise scheduled to begin this summer in Texas that has riled conspiracy theorists.
“I think it’s okay to question your government — I do it on a pretty regular basis," Perry told reporters here before a luncheon for the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth. "The military's something else."
"You know, I think our military is quite trustworthy," Perry added. "Civilian leadership – you can always question that, but not the men and women in uniform.”
Perry's remarks came in response to a question about the decision by his successor, Greg Abbott, to have the Texas State Guard monitor the operation, known as Jade Helm 15. Asked after the luncheon whether he was criticizing Abbott, Perry did not reply.
The two-month simulation is slated to start in July in states throughout the Southwest. Its skeptics believe it is a covert effort to institute martial law. Abbott has taken some heat for getting involved, including from a former longtime GOP lawmaker. On Monday, Abbott defended the move, saying he is simply working to provide information to concerned citizens.
Jade Helm was not the only news Perry addressed Tuesday. He mentioned a deadly shooting Sunday in Garland that the Islamic State terrorist group has taken credit for, putting it in the context of an “attack on Western values.”
“This isn’t halfway around the world anymore,” Perry said. “This is our neighbors.”
He quickly transitioned to a criticism of President Obama’s “delusional thinking” on foreign policy, saying the United States is “not going to defeat radical Islamic extremists by downplaying the threat they pose.”
Perry’s prepared remarks otherwise closely tracked what he has been telling audiences across the country as he gears up for a 2016 presidential run. During a Q-and-A following his speech, he was unusually candid in response to a question about his position on allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for in-state tuition.
Perry’s support for House Bill 1403 – the so-called Texas Dream Act – drew conservative ire during his ill-fated 2012 bid for the White House. He has defended the law to varying degrees over the years but on Tuesday offered a new take on why there is now movement at the Capitol to roll back the statute.
“I did a fairly poor job explaining why 1403 was passed, and I think had I done a better job of that, not only would the people of the country, but the current makeup of the Legislature, look at this a little bit differently,” Perry said Tuesday, stressing his long-held belief that the law helps make undocumented immigrants productive members of society rather than dependent on government.
The question came from Jorge Baldor, a Dallas businessman who is leading a campaign to keep the law in place.
Perry sounded every bit the presidential candidate as he addressed Dallas' movers and shakers in a room overlooking the city's downtown. However, he offered no new hints about when he will make his campaign official.
“I will make an announcement,” Perry said after taking the stage, pausing briefly. “This is my wife’s birthday.”