Protester Eric Parker aims his weapon next to the Bureau of Land Management's base camp where seized cattle are being held near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 12, 2014.
Jim Urquhart/Reuters

Heller sees Bundy, allies as ‘patriots’

Last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch in very forceful terms. “Those people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not,” Reid said. “They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists,”
A day later, Reid appeared alongside his fellow Nevada senator, Republican Dean Heller, for a joint appearance on Las Vegas’ NBC affiliate. They apparently don’t see eye to eye.
“What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots,” GOP Sen. Dean Heller said during the rare joint appearance on KSNV-TV. “We have a very different view on this.” […]
“It’s a pretty broad brush,” Heller said Reid is using in making the “domestic terrorist” charge. “When you have boy scouts there, you have veterans at the event, you have grandparents at the event.”
I think it’s probably safe to say Reid, when raising the specter of domestic terrorism, was referring to well-armed militia activists who risked creating a violent incident at Bundy’s ranch, not boy scouts.
Heller added, “I take more issues with BLM coming in with a paramilitary army of people, individuals with snipers, and I’m talking to people and groups that were there at the event, and to have your own government with sniper lenses on you, it made a lot of people very uncomfortable.”
Note, when Heller complains about “a paramilitary army of people” and “snipers,” the Republican senator isn’t referring to the militia members; he’s talking about U.S. officials and those helping enforce federal law.
In general, Republicans have avoided this sort of rhetoric.
Last week, the RNC, NRCC, NRSC, and Tea Party Patriots were all given opportunities to comment on the Bundy controversy, and they all declined. There are a variety of prominent Republicans readying campaigns for national  office and looking for ways to raise their visibility on the major issues of the day, but few have wanted to say a word about this rancher and his allies.
And at a certain level, that’s unfortunate. While some pandering to extremists has become routine in GOP politics, it’s nevertheless a shame that more would-be leaders in the party aren’t willing to say that Americans should follow the law and federal court rulings should be honored.
But silence is still preferable to Heller’s public endorsement.
To be sure, the pressure on the senator is going to be different given that he actually represents the state in which the standoff occurred, but Heller has to understand that he’s playing with fire here.
It’s one thing to express some sympathy for a local rancher whose family has been in the area for generations; it’s something else entirely to celebrate someone who ignores American laws; defies American court rulings, and pretends the U.S. government doesn’t exist. Either the Republican believes in the rule of law or he doesn’t.
When Bundy and his allies temporarily prevailed due to the threat of violence, Heller says he saw “patriots.” Perhaps the senator could clarify how he defines the word – and who else he believes should be able to ignore the law so long as they’re surrounded by well-armed friends.