MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle: ‘Harry Reid Is Right’ Cliven Bundy Is A ‘Domestic Terrorist’

In the wake of the standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) jumped into the controversy and proclaimed that Bundy was “nothing better than domestic terrorists and I think that we are a country that people should follow the law.

Following Reid's controversial comments, MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle jumped to support Reid on Morning Joe on Friday April 18. Barnicle maintained “Those people on the ground in Nevada are terrorists under that definition. Harry Reid is right. The prosecution rests. [See video below.]

While MSNBC spent nearly 10 minutes discussing Reid's domestic terrorist” comments, none of the network morning shows bothered to cover it at all. Instead, all three networks gushed over Chelesa Clinton's new baby.

Barnicle began his comments by condescendingly arguing "Let's take a brief educational break here David and then we’ll get to you. For me to read, boys and girls sitting down there at breakfast. The definition of terrorism from Webster’s dictionary. Terrorism is a noun. The use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal."

While choosing to use much less incendiary remarks than Barnicle, MSNBC's Jon Heilemann expressed disdain for the confrontation:

Here's the part where you just want to read the headline. Which is as Senator Reid points out is there are a bunch of armed militia men who come to the guy's defense...They're the federal government. Just like we allow police officers to point guns at people who are breaking the law, the state has certain kinds of power that we shouldn't engage in armed challenges…But here's the question, Nicole. You don't seriously want to put on the one side of the cultural divide liberals and on the other side conservatives who think that militia behavior, that armed militia behavior is okay.

For her part, Nicolle Wallace, former communications director for President George W. Bush, shot down the ridiculous assertions made by Barnicle and Heilemann:

I wouldn't put Senator Reid on the de-escalation task force. These are not words meant to bring this to any sort of peaceful resolution. I said in the break that there are sometimes episodes -- we talk a lot about political polarization in this country. The more real experience for Americans is cultural polarization. And I think the "Duck Dynasty" controversy last year where one of the characters on a reality TV show made some inappropriate comments about gay Americans.

I mean, there are flash points and cultural crises in this country that reveal the cultural divide. And sometimes it's east/west. Sometimes it's this disdain and disregard for authority. Sometimes it's about taxation. But this is one of those flash points that if you do more than just read the headlines, you can dig in and understand one of the cultural divides in this country. There are people who think that it is immoral for the federal government to hand this guy a $1 million bill.

Meet the Press moderator David Gregory went even further, condemning the use of the term "domestic terrorist" when describing Bundy:

I actually think we have to be very careful I think in the media we have to be careful and I think that any federal official including politicians should not throw around phrases like domestic terrorism. Timothy McVeigh was a murderer, mass murderer. He was a domestic terrorist. There are laws in this country that allow it to empower individuals.

They may have had weapons that may have been illegal. I don't know what the particular case was. I think you have to be very careful…I think that the question here is about how media, how federal officials seek to lessen these kinds of tension and not create more of a standoff. Because there is a cultural divide. There are those who have real antipathy toward the federal government and things can very quickly get out of hand. So I don't think it's about having a debate about all of the merit of the issue. It's about how do we bring calm to a situation that can get out of control.

As the segment concluded, Barnicle attempted to walk back is “domestic terrorist” sentiments:

I'm very sympathetic to the argument that you made a few moments ago about the use of the word terrorism and Harry Reid's use of that word and everything like that. But there seems to be if you look at those pictures, there is something deeply troubling that's going on in this country.

There's a level of paranoia in this country among some elements of people who regard the federal government, our government, the United States government as the principle enemy in their lives. There's something deeply upsetting here.

See relevant transcript below.


MSNBC

Morning Joe

April 18, 2014

7:11 a.m. Eastern

THOMAS ROBERTS: Alright, we want to get to Nicole's favorite story. It involves Senator Harry Reid. Harry Reid saying that there's a task force being formed to deal with rancher Cliven Bundy whose refusal to pay grazing fees to the government triggered an armed standoff with federal officials. Speaking in Las Vegas, the Nevada Democrat had harsh words for the militia members who came to support the rancher against the Bureau of Land Management.

HARRY REID: There were hundreds, hundreds of people from around the country who came there. They had sniper rifles on the freeway. They had assault weapons. They had automatic weapons. These people who hold themselves out to be patriots are not. They're nothing better than domestic terrorists and I think that we are a country that people should follow the law.

ROBERTS: So Cliven Bundy refuses to recognize the federal government. He owes about a million bucks for grazing cattle on public lands. But you Nicole, you take it to harry Reid trying to make Bundy out to be a type some type of terrorist, and using that phrase.

NICOLLE WALLACE: Yeah listen, I wouldn't put Senator Reid on the de-escalation task force. These are not words meant to bring this to any sort of peaceful resolution. I said in the break that there are sometimes episodes -- we talk a lot about political polarization in this country. The more real experience for Americans is cultural polarization. And I think the "Duck Dynasty" controversy last year where one of the characters on a reality TV show made some inappropriate comments about gay Americans. I mean, there are flash points and cultural crises in this country that reveal the cultural divide. And sometimes it's east/west. Sometimes it's this disdain and disregard for authority. Sometimes it’s about taxation. But this is one of those flash points that if you do more than just read the headlines, you can dig in and understand one of the cultural divides in this country. There are people who think that it is immoral for the federal government to hand this guy a $1 million bill.

JOHN HEILEMANN: That's all understood. Here's the part where you just want to read the headline. Which is as Senator Reid points out is there are a bunch of armed militia men who come to the guy's defense.

WALLACE: Well, the federal government is pointing more guns at the armed militia than the armed militia--

HEILEMANN: They're the federal government. Just like we allow police officers to point guns at people who are breaking the law, the state has certain kinds of power that we shouldn't engage in armed challenges.

WALLACE: And the state has certain responsibility.

HEILEMANN: But here's the question, Nicole. You don't seriously want to put on the one side of the cultural divide liberals and on the other side conservatives who think that militia behavior, that armed militia behavior is okay.

WALLACE: I wasn't talking about liberals and conservatives.

HEILEMANN: You were.

WALLACE: No.

HEILEMANN: Sure you were.

WALLACE: No. What I was talking about was there is a divide and there are people -- you may not believe it -- but there are people with such distrust for the federal government that when they get a $1 million tax. It's not like he was getting bills every month and he didn't pay them and they added up to $1 million.

HEILEMANN: That kind of divide is pretty much between right and left though right? I mean that's not a divide

DAVID GREGORY: Can I say something?

HEILEMANN: Wait for Mike.

MIKE BARNICLE: Let's take a brief educational break here David and then we’ll get to you. For me to read, boys and girls sitting down there at breakfast. The definition of terrorism from Webster’s dictionary. Terrorism is a noun. The use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal. Those people on the ground in Nevada are terrorists under that definition. Harry Reid is right. The prosecution rests. David Gregory, take it away.

DAVID GREGORY: What I hear Nicole saying is a little bit away from the particulars about Bundy. And I actually think we have to be very careful I think in the media we have to be careful and I think that any federal official including politicians should not throw around phrases like domestic terrorism. Timothy McVeigh was a murderer, mass murderer. He was a domestic terrorist. There are laws in this country that allow it to empower individuals. They may have had weapons that may have been illegal. I don't know what the particular case was. I think you have to be very careful. We all lived through the '90s whether it was Oklahoma City, whether it was the Waco standoff, the Freeman standoff. I think that the question here is about how media, how federal officials seek to lessen these kinds of tension and not create more of a standoff. Because there is a cultural divide. There are those who have real antipathy toward the federal government and things can very quickly get out of hand. So I don't think it's about having a debate about all of the merit of the issue. It's about how do we bring calm to a situation that can get out of control.

ROBERTS: So is it fair to say, though, that an anarchist is a better term to use for Bundy?

WALLACE: Listen, I'm not defending Bundy. And I'm not defending that he's got children and guns and things at the federal government.

BARNICLE: They're going to get someone killed.

WALLACE: But all I'm saying -- I think David's got it exactly right. This must end. And hopefully it'll end peacefully. And Harry Reid throwing around terms like domestic terrorist does not facilitate -- and I said jokingly, but I wouldn't put him on the de-escalation committee. Of course he's broken the law. Anyone that speeds on the west side highway is breaking the law. Anyone that forgets to pay taxes on a speech they gave, I'm sure John Heilemann gives lots of speeches. Anyone that underpays their taxes has committed a crime. But to say that this is some anomaly that everyone else trusts the federal government and they receive a million dollar bill for 30 years of use of federal lands, they accept it. That would be an incredible misunderstanding of how most people in the west most people in the country—do you pay taxes on all your speeches?

HEILEMANN: I just want to be clear if the IRS shows up to collect extra taxes I will not have an armed militia surrounding me to try to ward them off.

BARNICLE: Gene go ahead.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Can I jump in to do something that I almost never do? I'm going to agree with Nicole Wallace. In that, you know -- step back for a second. This is not a criminal dispute or it should not be. This is a civil dispute over whether fines are owed for grazing lands. And this should be -- there should be a way to settle this peacefully. And while I generally speaking think we are wrong to reserve the use of the word terrorism only for Muslims, I think that's a bad habit that we have. And I think it distorts what really happens in the world. I do agree with Nicole that that is not particularly helpful in this situation. And it's not just Harry Reid. I think the whole escalation of this, you know, perhaps could have been handled differently. And the aim now should be to find a peaceful resolution and not have, you know, what we all fear happen.

BARNICLE: There's no doubt that everyone would like to see a peacefully resolution of this. But TJ can we run the tape of the gathering out there? Can we put that back up? Let's take a look at this. We don't have it right here in these frames, but there are numbers of people who arrive from around the country armed to the tee.

WALLACE: This is what it looks like when I walk out of MSNBC every morning, Barnicle. I mean these are just protests. I don't see any guns. Here's the other point--

BARNICLE: They're going to get someone killed.

WALLACE: He is a profitable farmer. So he has money to make a settlement on his debt. So I think if you take it out of the field, you take it out of the guys with gun pointing at each other and you take it into some conference room. I mean he is a profitable farmer who can make a financial settlement with what he owes.

ROBERTS: The accuracy of this video, this is almost a week old. There are images right there. Now we're seeing guns on site. But those images we saw just a moment ago, those officials had tasers. Those people there were in an argument back and forth. One man was tased. He actually ripped the taser strings off of himself. So obviously the jolt wasn't that bad. I've never been tased, so I don't know.

BARNICLE: Do these people work? They've have a day off? I don't get this.

ROBERTS: Obviously this has been brewing for -- as Nicole points out, this is almost three decades of back tax issues. This is gets to a point, and Eugene I know you said this is more civil. They're looking at this as criminal trespass and the fact that this has been an issue for this farmer. And that they are trying to rectify this long standing issue with this man. And now it's bubbled up to this point where it seems like it’s completely out of control. It never should have gotten to this point.

BARNICLE: I get all that. David Gregory, I'm very sympathetic to the argument that you made a few moments ago about the use of the word terrorism and Harry Reid's use of that word and everything like that. But there seems to be if you look at those pictures, there is something deeply troubling that's going on in this country. There's a level of paranoia in this country among some elements of people who regard the federal government, our government, the United States government as the principle enemy in their lives. There's something deeply upsetting here.

GREGORY: Well, but this is not new. I'm not just harkening back to our revolutionary and post-revolutionary period in our country. But over the past several decades as well. And we did have flash points particularly in the '90s. So that's not new. What's especially true, though, Mike, today is that this is not a right/left divide. There's elements of it, but you have these fissures now developing on the left and the right. Areas where they agree on the intrusion of the federal government. I think this decade, the past -- rather the two decades since the millennium has been about the increased power and intrusion of the federal government into the lives of Americans. Mostly in the creation security state post-9/11 but also the economic intervention after the financial collapse.

BARNICLE: And Barack Obama--

GREGORY: Now you have a new entitlement. These things are all coming together in a way that are creating huge debates and big disagreements about the role of the government.

Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer
Jeffrey Meyer is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center.