U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican, condemned that paramilitary powers of U.S. federal regulatory agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, which put its policing power to frightening use during the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s cattle ranch earlier this month.
“There are lots of people who are really concerned when the BLM shows up with its own SWAT team,” said Stewart, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. “They’re regulatory agencies; they’re not paramilitary units, and I think that concerns a lot of us.”
The dispute between BLM and Bundy concerned the rancher’s cattle-grazing practices. The BLM claimed that federal lands — including endangered tortoise habitats–were threatened by the cattle, and that Bundy owed millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. The organization dispatched armed agents and four-wheelers to the property and besieged the ranch for several days, provoking a brief conflict with Bundy’s family and supporters. (RELATED: Harry Reid: Cliven Bundy And Supporters Are ‘Domestic Terrorists’)
The use of tasers on protesters and establishment of a “free speech zone” concerned many civil libertarians. (RELATED: Victory For Cliven Bundy, Nevada Rancher Who Challenged Feds)
Eventually, BLM agents withdrew from the area, citing safety concerns.
Stewart said that regardless of whether Bundy was right or wrong, policing power should be left up to local authorities, not federal agencies.
“They should do what anyone else would do,” said Stewart. “Call the local sheriff, who has the capability to intervene in situations like that.”
A spokesperson for the Department of the Interior noted that the BLM does not possess SWAT team personnel, and already works with local law enforcement agencies.