U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is launching an effort to strip government departments of their ability to create and arm paramilitary units if those agencies have no law-enforcement function.
Stewart’s leadership on the issue was triggered by the recent standoff between the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. The congressman says regardless of one’s views on that dispute, he doesn’t see why the BLM needs its own SWAT team.
“This is actually pretty simple, and I think it’s fairly noncontroversial,” Stewart said. “I challenge people who don’t agree with me on this, ‘Can you think of a single instance where a regulatory agency, these aren’t law enforcement agencies they’re regulatory agencies, like the BLM or the EPA or even the Department of Education needs to enforce a regulation and they need to do it right now, and they’re so urgent they need to call in their SWAT teams.
“I just don’t think that resonates with the American people. At the end of the day, it leads to greater distrust between the American people and the federal government and that doesn’t help anyone,” said Stewart, noting recent scandals at regulatory agencies should make people alarmed at the prospect of those agencies being heavily armed.
He asked, “Do you trust the IRS more or less than you did a year ago? Do you trust the BLM more or less than you did a month ago? If I were one of the leaders of these agencies, I would want to answer that question and then see what I could do to increase trust with my constituents rather than exaggerate this distrust that has developed.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah:
Stewart said he’s fine with government agents carrying a sidearm while on duty for their own protection, but he said the military-style assault units need to be severely reined in. He noted that there are plenty of legitimate avenues for regulatory agencies to use in dealing with non-compliant people.
“If they have an issue and they need enforcement from law-enforcement agencies, there’s other options that they could call upon that would be less confrontational and would be much less heavy-handed by the federal government,” Stewart said.
“They can call on the local sheriff,” he suggested. “There’s a reason that local sheriffs are elected. They’re elected because if they abuse their authority or if their deputies abuse their authority, you can hold them accountable. In this case, it’s impossible to hold these federal regulatory agencies accountable for times they may be heavy-handed or just over the top.”
While the battle between the BLM and Cliven Bundy drew immense media coverage, Stewart said many, if not most, of the federal regulatory agencies have these sorts of paramilitary units of regulatory agencies that make life miserable for Americans more often than we realize.
“There’s an example in Pennsylvania recently, where the Food and Drug Administration raided a farm. This was just a family farm. This wasn’t a big corporate enterprise. His crime was shipping unpasteurized milk across state lines,” said Stewart, who also noted that the Department of Education has engaged in these sorts of actions.
“One of their SWAT teams battered down a door at six o’clock in the morning, arrested the individual there, put his three children in a police car and left them there for hours. What they were investigating was his former wife’s college financial aid fraud. So we’re seeing more aggressive tactics being used within the last few years,” said Stewart, who described how this trend has become far more common in recent years.
“It’s something that’s slowly developed but has become much more noticeable and much more aggressive in the last few years,” he said.
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Stewart is currently studying the issue before deciding how to approach it legislatively, but he sees two paths that seem most plausible.
“I actually sit on the Appropriations Committee,” he said. “We may be able to just look at a tool of defunding some of these units. We may end up with legislation that goes before the House. I was sitting on the House floor yesterday, and I had half-a-dozen members come up who had heard I was taking on this challenge. And they said, ‘Hey, I want to help you. I want to join in that effort.’”
Despite the fierce partisan divide on most issues before Congress, Stewart believes this can be a major bipartisan effort.
“I really think this is something that resonates across party lines,” he said. “I don’t know many liberals or progressives or Democrats who are very comfortable with this. I think many of them feel the same way that I do.”
Another major debate hanging over the BLM-Bundy feud and the flexing of federal muscles in general centers on the government’s ownership of massive swaths of land in the western U.S. Stewart says that’s a big problem.
“I’ve got counties in my district here in Utah that are 93 percent controlled by the federal government,” he said. “Statewide, it’s something approaching 60 percent. Nevada is something like 80 percent. People who aren’t familiar with that are often surprised and even shocked. How is it that in a state like Utah, more than half of it falls under federal control when you’ve got a state like New York that’s maybe one percent?”
The congressman said there’s any obvious solution to that as well.
“There’s a broader effort, which I support and many of us, in fact most of us, support in the West,” Stewart explained. “That is to return control of federal lands to state control. There’s no reason for that still to fall under federal jurisdiction.”