Anyone worried about the rapidly growing power of the federal government under President Obama and the militarization of federal law enforcers had to take heart last week.
It was quite a sight when hundreds of citizens, many of them on horseback, converged near the Mesquite, Nev., ranch of Cliven Bundy in reaction to the federal government's massive show of force against the cattleman.
At issue is Mr. Bundy's refusal since 1993 to pay for federal permits to graze his cattle on land, some of it designated as protected for the desert tortoise. Mr. Bundy's family had grazed cattle in the area since homesteading in 1877, and he insists that the land is owned by the state of Nevada, not the federal government, which now manages 87 percent of land in the Silver State. Mr. Bundy will pay Clark County for permits, but not a dime to the feds, who he says wrongly took the land.
The problem is not the legality of Mr. Bundy's actions. He might eventually win his case, but he's already lost in federal court. The real problem is the Obama administration's overreaction. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sent a helicopter and a huge force of armed men in riot gear, including snipers, who seized hundreds of Mr. Bundy's cows and set up a small "free-speech zone," outside of which someone could be arrested for speaking against the federal action. Neighbors say the feds destroyed property and shot and killed two of the 76-year-old Mr. Bundy's prize bulls.
Now here's where the plot thickens.
On April 8, the U.S. Senate confirmed Neil G. Kornze as head of the BLM by a vote of 71-28, including 15 Republican "yes" votes. Before his stint as principal deputy director of the BLM, Mr. Kornze worked for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, on "public lands issues," according to The Washington Post, which noted that the 35-year-old Mr. Kornze will be overseeing 264 million acres of public lands, mostly in Western states.
Nevada is to questionable federal land deals what New Jersey is to mob-related "accidents." Last May, a federal jury found Harvey Whittemore, one of Mr. Reid's close friends and donors, guilty of making illegal campaign contributions to Mr. Reid in 2007. Mr. Whittemore was sentenced in September to two years in federal prison.
In 2004, Mr. Whittemore benefited from a land-use bill sponsored by Mr. Reid that gave him an easement needed to build a retirement community, Coyote Springs, 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, according to The Los Angeles Times. Since 2000, Mr. Whittemore had donated $45,000 to Mr. Reid's campaign and a Reid-run political action committee, and two of Mr. Reid's sons worked for Mr. Whittemore. All four of Mr. Reid's sons at one time have worked for the law firm at which Mr. Whittemore is a senior attorney. The project was delayed until the BLM completed a deal to relocate a tortoise habitat. Ah, those tortoises.
In addition, The Washington Times' Valerie Richardson reports that "Mr. Reid's son Rory Reid, a former Clark County commissioner, represented ENN Mojave Energy, a Chinese-backed company seeking to build a $5 billion solar plant near Laughlin, Nev. The company ultimately dropped those plans ."
Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman dismissed what she called "conspiracy theories," telling KLAS-TV in Las Vegas that the ENN project is more than 100 miles from the Bundy ranch. Another solar project whose groundbreaking Mr. Reid attended is closer — about 35 miles from the ranch, according to KLAS.
A BLM document just released last month also shows plans to develop the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone, which is contingent on "mitigation efforts" to protect wildlife on the Gold Butte land where Mr. Bundy grazes his cattle.
Let's stop and take stock. First, the citizens' armed response in support of the 76-year-old father of 14 may have prevented a replay of the Ruby Ridge siege in northern Idaho in August 1992, which resulted in the deaths of Randy Weaver's wife, Vicki; his son Sammy; and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Francis Degan.
It may have prevented another massacre like the 51-day siege in 1993 of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which resulted in the deaths of four federal agents, cult leader David Koresh, and 81 of his followers, including 25 children.
In Nevada, a better scenario has unfolded — so far. The BLM backed off and returned some cattle to Mr. Bundy. Negotiations are underway. Still, Mr. Reid told Reno TV station KRNV, "We can't have an American people that violate the law and just walk away from it. So it's not over."
If only Mr. Reid felt that way about the U.S. Justice Department's lawlessness under Attorney General Eric H. Holder.
Let the record show that Mr. Reid did refrain from accusing Mr. Bundy of being in cahoots with "the billionaire Koch brothers."
Second, the incident shows the danger of allowing the federal government to become so powerful. As Ronald Reagan observed, "Government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives."
Third, the involvement of people close to Mr. Reid cries out for an inquiry, and perhaps more. Nevada has a law allowing recall of "every public officer in the state." Nevada's secretary of state issued a 1977 opinion that the law doesn't cover U.S. senators, but it's never been court-tested. Perhaps it's time.
Tea Party leaders in 2010 launched an effort to recall New Jersey Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for backing Obamacare. The petition drive was tied up in court until the New Jersey Supreme Court dismissed it as "moot" because Mr. Menendez ran for (and won) re-election in 2012.
Mr. Reid isn't up for re-election until 2016.
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.