Confronting armed rebels a job for Congress?

Say what you will about the Center for American Progress, but don’t say the group lacks faith in the government of the United States.

In fact, the extent of that faith — in the midst of the most polarizing election at the most polarized moment in recent American memory — borders on the naive. CAP, in a report released Thursday, recommends that Congress do something about the problem of violent extremism on America’s public lands.

That’s the Republican-controlled Congress of the United States of America they’re talking about.

Far from being uninformed, CAP is fully aware of the ideological make-up of the current congressional majority, and of the fact that several of its more outspoken members sympathize with the armed insurrectionists who have confronted duly authorized federal officials on public lands from Bunkerville to Oregon.

“Anti-government extremists are intimidating — and perpetrating violence against — public servants, destroying public property, desecrating the cultural resources of tribal nations, and leading armed insurrections against federal law enforcement officials,” reads the report by Matt Lee-Ashley, director of public lands for the center. “Within the political system, they are pressuring state legislatures to pass unconstitutional copycat bills that demand the turnover of national public lands to state control.”

Hey, that sounds familiar! Oh, that’s right: Nevada’s Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 1, which requests the transfer of 7.2 million acres of federal land to the state, on a party-line vote during the 2015 session.

Thus far, Ashley writes, Congress has failed to conduct any investigations into anti-government extremist actions on public lands. In fact, quite the opposite. Members of Congress have proposed the elimination of Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service law enforcers (Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah); investigated federal agencies for alleged threats, intimidation or bullying (Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah); or even blamed the behavior of extremists on federal officials (Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.).

Walden — who represents the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that was seized recently by armed ranchers, some of them from Nevada — said federal policies from the Clinton administration to the Obama administration are to blame for rancher rage, sentiments echoed by lawmakers including Nevada’s own Rep. Mark Amodei. And Walden, while distancing himself from the militants, praised their willingness “to defend what they view as their constitutional rights.”

Stop right there: Regardless of what the armed insurrectionists “view as their constitutional rights,” the fact is, the federal government is constitutionally empowered to “…make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States….” And regardless of what crackpot legal theories may abound, that fact remains unchanged.

CAP asks Congress to investigate to rise of anti-government extremist activity on public lands, including funding from outside groups that may be flowing to personal and business accounts of some of the armed insurrectionists. And the group called for expanding — not disbanding or disarming — federal law-enforcement agencies in the BLM and U.S. Forest Service.

Oh, and one more thing: “If Congress is to effectively respond to the rise of violent extremism on public lands, it must also confront its own members who are inciting the anti-government rage of militants and endorsing the radical ends that they pursue,” the report reads. “Congress should be asserting its role in the democratic management of public lands, not abdicating its duties by selling them off.”

Yes, Congress should be doing all of that. Whether or not it will, well, that’s an entirely different story.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and co-host of the show “PoliticsNOW,” airing at 5:30 p.m. Sundays on 8NewsNow. Read his blog at SlashPolitics.com, follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius), or reach him at 702-397-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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