On the 1-10 Harry Reid Scale of Demagoguery, this gets … a seven. Reid’s Kochsteria and his labeling of two men as “un-American” from the floor of the Senate for engaging in the political process in opposition to his own agenda has to get the ten. Abusing the term “terrorist” during a partisan political event has to get a little lower rating, but not by much:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intensified his criticism of armed militia members supporting rancher Cliven Bundy, calling them “domestic terrorists.”
“They’re nothing more than domestic terrorists,” Reid said Thursday at an event hosted by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, according to the newspaper. “I repeat: what happened there was domestic terrorism.”
Reid specifically criticized Bundy supporters for bringing guns and their children to the ranch to defend him against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). BLM officials and contractors started rounding up Bundy’s cattle last week because of his refusal to pay $1 million in grazing fees, but they backed down Saturday due to safety concerns.
It’s possible to have mixed feelings about what happened at the Bundy ranch without calling the support the ranchers received “domestic terrorism.” (John Hinderaker’s analysis lands pretty close to my own reaction.) Primarily, no act of violence took place, although some of the protesters were armed. In the end, this was a non-violent action, although still dangerous for those involved. The BLM stood down in part because of that danger, but also in part because their abuse of authority embarrassed them once it got as much attention as it did.
Why knock down three pegs on the scale? Well, consider it a technicality. The legal definition at the Department of Justice, at least since 1994, has been this:
The unlawful use of force or violence, committed by a group(s) of two or more individuals, against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
That’s why this only gets a seven. One could make the argument that the armed faction at the Bundy ranch was a show of force that coerced the BLM into retreat, and that would meet that definition … in a strictly literal sense. However, the common-sense definition of “domestic terrorism” involves an actual use of violence, and usually against civilian targets (although no one would doubt that the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 was an act of domestic terrorism). In this category, one would first think of the Animal Liberation Front, the SLA, the United Freedom Front, and so on — not an ad hoc demonstration of solidarity for a rancher involved in a legal standoff with the BLM.
So Reid has some claim here, but (a) it’s tenuous, (b) it’s unnecessarily inflammatory, and (c) it flies in the face of the common-sense definition of “domestic terrorism.” He’d have been better off stopping at “anarchists.”
Reid’s demagoguery is having an effect, by the way, but it’s probably not the one he wants. Republican Thom Tillis, in the running to challenge Kay Hagan for the US Senate seat for North Carolina in November, uses Reid’s dishonesty and “meddling” to make him an issue in the Tar Heel State:
“Seen those ads attacking Thom Tillis? They’re false. Tillis fired the staffers. Know who’s paying for the sleazy ads? It’s Harry Reid. Reid’s trying to fool Republican voters, meddling in our primary to get a weak opponent for Kay Hagan. The press says Democrats ‘fear Tillis the most.’ Tillis brought a conservative revolution to Raleigh. That’s why we need him in Washington. Don’t be fooled by Harry Reid. I’m Thom Tillis and I approved this message.”
Expect to see Reid brought up as a major issue against most of the vulnerable Senate Democrats, especially as he makes himself a larger and easier target.
Update: I misidentified the state Hagan represents; it has been corrected. Thanks to Curmudgeon in the comments.
Update: Jon Ralston notes that “words matter, especially in the hands of politicians.” Ralston is unhappy with the Bundy situation, but says that Reid is making the situation even worse with his demagoguery: