Updated: April 24, 2014, 10:25 AM
Once it was the Internal Revenue Service, then it was the National Parks Service. Now, quickly, the Bureau of Land Management is becoming the agency of the federal government conservatives love to hate as a sign of federal overreach into local affairs.
The spark was a showdown between Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials and cattle rancher Cliven Bundy in Nevada but, more recently, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for governor, has taken an adversarial stance against the agency as well. On Tuesday Abbott sent a letter to the head of the BLM with a list of questions about a possible land acquisition near the Red River in Texas.
“As Attorney General of Texas, I am deeply troubled by reports from BLM field hearings that the federal government may claim — for the first time — that 90,000 acres of territory along the Red River now belong to the federal government,” Abbott wrote.
The potential acquisition is in its early stages but Abbott’s letter asked for very specific details about the possible land acquisition such as “the procedural due process the BLM will afford to Texans whose property may be claimed by the federal government” as well as for specifics on “the amount of Texas territory that would be impacted by BLM’s decision to claim this private land as the property of the federal government.”
On the surface Abbott doesn’t have a lot of political motivation to take on the BLM. The agency is more obscure than other organizations that Republicans often revile (the IRS, or the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services) and Abbott has plenty of support among Republicans in deep red Texas in his gubernatorial race. But by sending the letter Abbott is arguably tapping into longstanding frustrations in the southwest about the BLM that goes at least as far back as the Sagebrush Rebellion. The Sagebrush Rebellion, which involved ranchers and farmers openly fighting with Washington bureaucrats over the ownership of large swaths of the American West, gained so much attention that then-President Ronald Reagan in Salt Lake City said “I happen to be one who cheers and supports the Sagebrush Rebellion.”
“I think that if he’s interested in generating support for the state’s position and the landowners’ position vis-a-vis the federal government, this is a good time to strike because there is a certain reservoir of anti-government sentiment by the Bundy situation,” Wilson told TPM.
The timing is ripe. Since the Bundy confrontation began there’s been more discussion of the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Fighting the BLM has become a rallying point for some on the right, even if Bundy is an imperfect hero since even Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly admits he broke the law. Local lawmakers have railed against the agency’s overreach in Nevada and national television personalities like Sean Hannity have attacked other commentary (like Jon Stewart’s) on the BLM versus Bundy and his supporters. More and more, though, attacks are moving on from the BLM in Nevada to the BLM in general.
Investigation: A longtime Harry Reid aide leads Bureau of land Management #hannity
— Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) April 16, 2014
A National Review article about federal agencies retaining SWAT teams started with BLM’s “paramilitary wing.” And a FoxNews.com report titled “Republicans warn BLM eyeing land grab along Texas-Oklahoma border” said Texas officials had begun raising the alarm about the Bureau of Land Management and quoted the Texas Farm Bureau’s Gene Hall on Greta Van Susteren’s show saying “we have seen an aggressive overreach by the federal government and in more than one instance, if you have got an agency like this that’s very well funded with a lot of people involved, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they are going to overreach and extend that aggressive approach.”
Meanwhile, former state Rep. Sid Miller (R-TX) told Breitbart.com that “the BLM is attempting a repeat of an action taken over 30 years ago along the Red River when Tommy Henderson lost a federal lawsuit.”
Rick Perry warned that the Bureau of Land Management should be careful in “Nevada or Texas or Oklahoma.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) went on a bit of a tangent about the BLM during an interview on Fox News on Wednesday. He said he had a problem with the federal government forcing citizens to use guns.
“And that’s the reason I think that the Bureau of Land Management needs to be really careful about coming — whether it’s Nevada or Texas or Oklahoma or whatever state it might be — and acting like private property is something that they control and that they are going to be able to make the decision about who this belongs to,” Perry said.
Perry added that “unless the federal government respects that, then I’ll suggest to you that they are the ones instigating the opportunity for misfortune to happen.”
On Monday, a front page contributor to the conservative website Red State, who goes by the handle streiff, published a post that read “the BLM has attracted managers who look upon the federal lands as their personal fiefdoms to do with as they see fit.”
For Abbott, the newfound attention on the BLM is an opportunity to rally support around a specific topic, Wilson said.
“Now, obviously Greg Abbott does not want militia people showing up in North Texas or any of that sort of thing, but if the suspicion of the Bureau of Land Management and a sort of suspicion of an overreaching federal government has been activated by the Bundy situation this is a great opportunity to make this preemptive strike now and generate more attention for it and generate more attention for it not as a self-aggrandizing political gesture but as a way to make the advocacy of the position more effective because more people would actually care than would be normally the case,” Wilson added.
Wilson also said that Abbott’s letter was really a preemptive strike if anything.
“Right and as of now this is a preemptive strike by Abbott. The federal government hasn’t actually done anything yet,” Wilson said. “And it’s not clear that they ever well. There has been some rumbling that they might make an assertion of a claim and I think that given the heightened sensitivities surrounding the Bundy situation, Abbott and the land owners involved wanted to try to head this off at the pass.”