Robert Knight

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, Nevada 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 two of 76-year-old Mr. Bundy’s prize bulls.

Now, here’s where the plot thickens.

On April 8, during the BLM’s round up of Mr. Bundy’s cattle, 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 (D-NV) on “public lands issues,” according to the Washington Post, which noted that the 35-year-old 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 Harry Reid’s close friends and biggest donors, guilty of making illegal campaign contributions to Mr. Reid in 2007. Mr. Whittemore was sentenced in September to two years in federal prison.


Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.