Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded two weeks ago 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."
And while most Republican officials were reluctant to publicly disagree, Reid's fellow Nevadan, Sen. Dean Heller (R) decided to stick his neck out. "What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots," Heller said
. "We have a very different view on this." The Republican senator added that federal officials have "made a lot of people very uncomfortable" by trying to enforce federal law.
As criticism has mounted over the controversial Nevada rancher's comments and tactics, the GOP senator is distancing himself from Bundy and his supporters after referring to them as "patriots" earlier this month. "I am very quick in calling American citizens 'patriots,'" Heller said in an interview. "Maybe in this case, too quick."
You don't say.
Heller went on to explain, "I want to make it very clear that I never called Bundy a patriot. And I believe Bundy should have been paying those fees."
I haven't found any evidence that the GOP senator specifically called Bundy a patriot, but let's not lose sight of the context: Heller said, "What Sen. Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots." He appeared to be referring to the well-armed protestors and militia members who'd rallied to support Bundy in his crusade to ignore laws and court orders he doesn't like -- because he doesn't believe the United States government exists.
Heller saw these folks create a tense, potentially violent standoff with U.S. officials and then he called them "patriots." Whether or not he specifically used the word in relation to Bundy is interesting, but it's not the key detail.
The senator added that about "80 percent" of the protesters were "people I called patriots," but there were "some bad apples in there, bad actors, no doubt."
How does Heller arrive at this figure? He hasn't said.
Meanwhile, the well-armed protestors and militia members Heller praised are reportedly still at work
in the area.
A Democratic congressman from Nevada said in a letter this week that his constituents have reported the armed militia supporting rancher Cliven Bundy have set up checkpoints to verify the residency of anybody passing through. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV), who represents the area, sent the letter Sunday to Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, asking him to investigate. "I am writing to bring your attention to the ongoing situation in northeastern Clark County which has caused many of my constituents to fear for their safety," Horsford wrote. Residents in the area "have expressed concern over the continual presence of multiple out-of-state, armed militia groups that have remained in the community" since Bundy's dispute with the Bureau of Land Management came to a boil.
added that militia members have reportedly "set up checkpoints where residents are required to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass."
I'm trying to wrap my head around this. If you were to tell me that in Eastern Ukraine, there are checkpoints at which armed men are demanding documents from local residents before they're allowed to pass, I'd believe you.
But to think this is happening right now in the United States is more than a little unsettling.