Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy “domestic terrorists” Thursday, turning up the rhetorical heat on the already tense situation at the Nevada cattle operation.
“Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists,” Mr. Reid in remarks at a luncheon, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which sponsored the event. “… I repeat: What went on up there was domestic terrorism.”
The Nevada Democrat was referring to the hundreds of Bundy backers — some armed, some from out of state — who congregated at the ranch last week in a show of support as the Bureau of Land Management began seizing the family’s cattle in a dispute over grazing fees.
No shots were fired, although Ammon Bundy, Cliven Bundy’s adult son, was stung by a Taser last week during an argument with federal agents.
BLM officials abandoned the cattle-gather Saturday, citing concerns about public safety at the Bunkerville, Nev., ranch as the number of demonstrators grew.
More supporters are expected to flock to the ranch Friday for the Bundy family’s “Patriot Party,” a community event aimed at thanking those who have supported them during the stand-off with the BLM.
Mr. Reid had remained mum on the conflict until Monday, when he told KLAS-TV in Las Vegas that “it’s not over.” In his Thursday remarks, he criticized Cliven Bundy refusing to comply with federal authority by paying his grazing fees.
“Clive Bundy does not recognize the United States,” Mr. Reid. “He says that the United States is a foreign government. He doesn’t pay his taxes. He doesn’t pay his fees. And he doesn’t follow the law. He continues to thumb his nose at authority.”
Mr. Bundy stopped paying to graze his cattle on federal property 21 years ago after the land was declared habitat for the desert tortoise and he was ordered to reduce his herd from roughly 900 to 150 head of cattle.
In August, however, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center announced that it would begin euthanizing half of the 1,400 tortoises at its facility as a result of federal budget cuts. BLM officials have emphasized that healthy tortoises will be relocated and not euthanized.
The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association issued a statement Wednesday saying that, “While we cannot advocate operating outside the law to solve problems, we also sympathize with Mr. Bundy’s dilemma.”
“The situation in Nevada stands as an example the federal agencies’ steady trend toward elevating environmental and wildlife issues over livestock grazing,” said the two-page statement. “Well-intentioned laws such as the Endangered Species Act — which are factors in Mr. Bundy’s case — are being implemented in a way that are damaging to our rights and to our western families and communities.”
During Thursday’s forum at the Paris Hotel & Casino, Mr. Reid was asked what should be done about supporters “who are willing to shed blood for the cause.”
“I hope that’s not the case,” Mr. Reid said in the Review-Journal. “I repeat, we are a country of laws. … We can’t let this happen.”
The Bundy family had no public comment Thursday on Mr. Reid’s remarks, but did post a video statement called “The Truth” from rancher Cliff Gardner.
Mr. Gardner says ranchers are frustrated because their research shows that the livestock actually benefit the tortoise, but that the courts have refused to take such evidence into account.
“I ask the people of America: Reconsider if you’re skeptical about the Bundy family, and look into the issue deeper yourself,” Mr. Gardner said. “Because I think you’ll find if we do not and we allow this federal government to increase its power and its jurisdiction further and further into the lives of everyday Americans, we’re very surely going to lose the freedom and liberty that America is supposed to be about.”