One senator’s terrorist is another’s patriot

So, are the self-styled, armed militia now camping out on the Cliven Bundy cattle ranch domestic terrorists, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says? Or are they “patriots,” as Nevada’s junior senator, Dean Heller, called them?

They’re neither.

First, when one thinks of domestic terrorists, one calls to mind Americans who have turned against their country and committed horrific acts of murder. Timothy McVeigh, who drove the truck bomb that destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, for example. Or Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, who hand-delivered or sent bombs through the mail for nearly 20 years before being arrested in 1996. McVeigh and Kaczynski carefully planned their crimes, where were designed to further a political agenda.

So far, the Bundy ranch gang hasn’t harmed anyone, although a small number of them appear to have committed other crimes. Some appear on video to have obstructed federal officers serving a lawful court order (a potential violation of 18 USC 111 and 18 USC 1509). Others closed down Interstate 15 for a time, which constitutes a public nuisance and disorderly conduct, at least. And one tried to deny access on a county public road to an 8NewsNow news crew, an action that protesters would surely cite as one of their grievances against the BLM.

But terrorism?

The FBI has helpfully collected the relevant domestic terrorism statutes on its website. In 18 USC 2331(5), domestic terrorism is defined as acts dangerous to human life that are violations of federal or state criminal statutes that “appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” that take place in the United States.

But other than the crimes listed above, the protesters haven’t done anything that would meet the definition of federal terrorism statutes. Simply carrying weapons is a Second Amendment-protected constitutional right (although aiming a firearm at a person is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada). Giving interviews describing fantasies about shooting it out with federal officers is pathetic and sad, but First Amendment-protected free speech (although making terrorist threats is a violation of state law.)

Reid cited the remarks of former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack, who told Fox News and a radio interviewer that he and other members of the protest groups intentionally put women and children in the line of fire, so that if government agents exchanged gunfire with protesters, there would be video footage of women and children being killed. (He additionally said he’d put his wife and daughters in that line of fire.) But there’s nothing to indicate that Mack was speaking for anyone but himself when he made those remarks.


Meanwhile, Nevada’s junior U.S. Sen. Dean Heller made a point to disagree with Reid on the issue during a joint appearance on the KSNV Channel 3 show What’s Your Point? on Friday. “If there were ever an example of people who were domestic violent terrorist wannabes, these are the guys,” Reid said. “And I think that we should call it that way.”

Heller disagreed: “I have a very different view. What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” Heller said.

Here, Reid interrupted Heller’s train of thought: “If they’re patriots, we’re in big trouble,” he said.

Actually, we’re in big trouble if a United States senator can’t tell the difference between a patriot — someone who puts his life, his fortune and his sacred honor on the line for his country — and a confused bunch of rifle-toting thugs coming to the aid of a man who doesn’t believe in the existence of the United States government who has refused to pay a fee that all his fellow ranchers pay. We’re in trouble if a man elected to the federal legislature fails to grasp the importance and necessity of federal officers enforcing federal court orders, and sides with a paranoid few who embrace the idea that actual law-abiding citizens have anything to fear from their federal government. And we’re in big trouble if a United States senator exaggerates the situation on the ground, say, claiming on TV that 200 armed BLM officers stormed the range, when in fact there are only 270 armed BLM rangers and special agents on duty in the entire United States.

To Heller, the protesters are simply Boy Scouts, veterans and grandmothers standing up for Bundy, and that’s OK “as long as they’re not promoting violence.” One might argue whether showing up armed, taking sniper positions and promising to return fire if fired upon promotes violence, but that’s neither here nor there. Let’s get more from Heller’s portion of interview:

“I would like to have hearings,” Heller said. “I want to find out who’s accountable for this. I hope someone in the BLM feels some accountability on exactly what happened. And I fear there will be no answer to that question. But I want hearings in Washington, D.C. on exactly what happened and who gave the orders in order to march in like this.”

Yes, by all means, let’s have hearings. And let’s start those hearings with testimony from Bundy himself, about precisely why he stopped paying grazing fees to the federal government. We can find out about his long legal battle that delayed enforcement of the law for nearly two decades. We can learn how, when Bundy finally realized the government was going to execute the lawful orders of the federal District Court, he called for a “range war.” And let’s by all means have testimony about how all BLM rangers and special agents are authorized to carry weapons in the performance of their duties.

Heller’s hearings — if they are ever held — will surely reveal some of the BLM’s missteps: Creating those ridiculous “First Amendment areas” far from the areas where Bundy’s cattle were being gathered off federal lands, for example. But they should also feature plenty of would-be militia types (and even some woefully uninformed state elected officials) demonstrating the kind of ignorance that can only serve to inflame already tense situations and substitute Black Helicopter Paranoia for facts on the ground.

By all means, let’s have hearings, if for no other reason than to put on full public display the kind of folks whom Heller by his own admission considers patriots.