Harry Reid did it again.
The Senate majority leader who called President Bush a “loser” and a “liar,” declared former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan a “political hack” and asserted that all Obamacare horror stories are “untrue” has now called Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters “domestic terrorists.”
The comparison is as noxious as it is absurd. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was a domestic terrorist. The Unabomber was a domestic terrorist. Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph was a domestic terrorist. To equate Bundy and his supporters with these murderers is, quite simply, appalling.
It was the federal Bureau of Land Management that provoked the confrontation — descending with 200 armed men, including some with sniper rifles, to seize the Bundys’ cattle on land their family has grazed since 1877. Whatever one thinks of the Bundys’ legal case over unpaid grazing fees — and the federal government’s desire to protect the desert tortoise — defending your property against a paramilitary force of armed federal agents is not the equivalent of blowing up a federal building or sending letter bombs.
It would be easy to dismiss Reid as a buffoon with a chronic case of logorrhea. But this was not a slip of the tongue on Reid’s part. Video shows that when Reid first used the phrase “domestic terrorists” at a Las Vegas Review Journal event, he looked down at his notes just before he spoke the words. It was a carefully planned line of attack. Then, when he was asked during a Nevada TV interview a day later “What did you mean by that?” he replied, “Just what I said” — before engaging in an extended attack on the Bundy family and its supporters.
Why would Reid, the senior senator from Nevada, make such an outrageous accusation?
First, Reid is defending the Obama administration from the charge that it used excessive force to try to seize the land. Most Americans recoil at the sight of armed federal agents training sniper rifles on a group of Boy Scouts, veterans, parents and grandparents engaged in civil disobedience. But if Bundy’s supporters are not protesters but “domestic terrorists,” then sending a federal force to confront them is not excessive.
Second, Reid is defending his former staffer, Neil Kornze, who presided over this debacle as the newly installed head of the Bureau of Land Management. Kornze, who is just 35 years old, was Reid’s handpicked choice to run the BLM. “Neil is just perfect for this position,” Reid declared when Kornze was nominated, adding that he “really understands the role of public lands in rural America, and natural resources across the West.”
In his first days on the job, Kornze demonstrated that understanding by launching a paramilitary raid against a Nevada rancher. Kornze tried to silence Bundy’s supporters by setting up “First Amendment Zones” where protesters would be corralled and fenced in like a bunch of cattle. And he provoked an armed standoff that might well have resulted in the death of innocent men, women and children. The only way his actions could be even remotely defensible is if he was confronting “domestic terrorists.”
Third, Reid is trying to discredit the critics of the federal government’s actions as extremists — and by extension all those who complain about the excesses of federal power. He wants to paint supporters of limited government as radicals so out of the mainstream that they are now even defending “domestic terrorists.”
But instead of painting conservatives as extremists, Reid is only painting Democrats as enemies of the Western way of life. The Bundy family’s cattle have been grazing on these lands for nearly 140 years — only to see armed federal agents try to seize their cattle. Even before the Bundy standoff, there was a larger movement afoot in Western states to take back control of federal lands within their borders. Last week, more than 50 elected officials from nine Western states gathered in Utah for a Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands. “What’s happened in Nevada is really just a symptom of a much larger problem,” said Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who helped convene the meeting. “It’s time the states in the West come of age,” said Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke. “We’re every bit as capable of managing the lands in our boundaries as the states east of Colorado.”
If Reid wants Democrats to be the party that responds to these growing calls for state control by sending armed federal forces to drive Western ranchers off of federal lands and seize their property, that is his choice. Calling his opponents “domestic terrorists” won’t solve his political problems — it will only make them worse.