Arms and 'The Man'

By Diane Alden
  • Wednesday, July 15, 1998

No longer does the federal government merely arm the U.S. Marshall’s service, the Secret Service, the FBI, the Border Patrol, DEA, BATF and the military. Today the IRS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, the Forest Service and even the Small Business Administration are carrying firearms. In the deadly incidents of over-reaction at Ruby Ridge and Waco, hardly a flak-jacketed bureaucrat paid any meaningful price. Expanding the power of federal agencies to use force against U.S. citizens means the possibility of occurrences like Ruby Ridge and Waco are increasing.

Every state, including Nevada, can cite instances in which bureaucrats, armed to the teeth, are conducting military-style operations. To the Founding Fathers, a federal police force was unthinkable, and individual citizens were advised to keep and bear arms. Thomas Jefferson said, "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms … as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

Bureaucrats in Ninja Mode

Early one morning in July of 1997, two men went to work at the Clearwater County flood control center in rural northwest Idaho. Immediately, they were accosted by six heavily armed federal agents carrying 9 mm Glock sidearms and wearing flak jackets. The agents hauled away 40 banker boxes of county records relating to 1996 flood recovery work. The basis for the search warrant was kept secret. Local officials wondered why they weren’t simply issued a subpoena for the records. Eventually, the Justice Department closed the investigation for lack of evidence.

The aftermath of the Clearwater incident left residents wondering why the federal government had sent a swat team to their community when an accountant would have been sufficient. The answer to that question may be found in the growing trend towards militarization of the federal bureaucracy. For instance, the Clearwater commando raid was conducted not by the FBI but by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Office (FEMA). Formerly, this agency would have sent auditors to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement.

A similar incident took place on Santa Cruz Island in California in January of this year. Using the force of a small army, the U.S. Park Service conducted a surprise raid on a nature camp, employing the excuse that the camp’s owner was robbing Chumash Indian graves. The commando-style raid included rousting and handcuffing a 15-year-old girl asleep in her cabin. The park rangers wore ski masks, carried machine guns and kept the girl handcuffed for two hours. In actuality, the Park Service wasn’t after illegally obtained artifacts. Using forfeiture laws, they were after the last bit of private property on Santa Cruz Island. For years, the National Park Service had been trying to obtain a privately owned 6,500-acre-ranch—which covers 10 percent of the island. The federal government’s stalking horse, the Nature Conservancy, owns the other 90 percent.

Similarly, one month after Ruby Ridge, Malibu millionaire Donald Scott, was gunned down in his home in a assault which included 14 federal and state government agencies led by the National Park Service. The alleged reason for the attack was the assertion by a paid drug informant that Scott was growing marijuana on his property. None was ever found, but the government got control of the dead man’s land.

The Nanny State is Packing Heat

In the name of efficiency, in 1994 the Justice Department began to allow blanket deputation of numerous agencies—that authority has been extended into 1999. Agencies such as the National Air and Space Administration, Labor, State, Transportation, Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Administration, and the Small Business Administration have received permission for agents to carry weapons. According to data from the General Accounting Office (GAO), the number of armed federal bureaucrats is more than 80,000, but the specific number is unknown. The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center produced 848 graduates in 1970. In 1998, the center will turn out 25,077. This number does not include FBI agents trained at the FBI center in Quantico, Virginia. Federal agents are trained and authorized to enforce over 3,000 criminal laws which Congress has passed. In addition, they must now deal with hundreds of thousands of regulations which carry criminal penalties. Thousands of regulations have been placed on the books in the last 30 years and relate to environmental or endangered species "crimes" or efforts to enforce federal "wars" like the "war on tobacco and drugs." Of the federal agencies with at least 500 armed officers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has grown the most—40 percent in 15 years.

The Green Police: At War in Nevada

Marc Morano, of the television news program American Investigator, has found the most wildly aggressive federal agencies using commando style tactics are the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Forest Service and the National Park Service.

The so called "green police" have waged war on Nevadans as well. In 1978, Nevada ranchers Wayne and Jean Hage’s troubles began when the National Park Service expressed an interest in buying their Pine Creek Ranch to incorporate into the Toiyabe National Forest. Offering the Hages less than half the value of the ranch, the family declined. The refusal set off a war of encroachment by the federal government against the Hages. On one occasion, Wayne Hage was surrounded by 30 Forest Service agents wearing flak jackets and carrying automatic weapons. At gunpoint, Hage was denied permission to remove cattle from a former grazing allotment. According to sworn depositions, the Forest Service admitted that on several occasions they had moved Hage’s cattle from his base ranch to government allotments—then cited him for trespass.

During a second raid, gun-toting Forest Service personnel threatened the Hages’ 17-year-old son and crew with bodily harm. As the unarmed cowboys tried to comply with a directive to remove cattle from unfenced U.S Forest Service administered land, they were told not to move or they would "regret it." Unlike Mr. Scott of Malibu, the Weavers of Ruby Ridge or the dead at Waco, the Hages survived and filed a takings claim against the federal government. They are awaiting final adjudication before the U.S. Federal Court of Claims.


Congressman Bill McCollum of Florida has asked the GAO for a series of reports on the rising number of armed bureaucrats. The frightening thing is that no one, not even the president of the United States, knows for certain how many federal police agents there are. This dilemma stems from the recurring problem of inadequate bureaucratic accountability. Partly because of this lack of accountability, the American system of limited federal power is being destroyed as America moves incrementally toward a federal police state.

Diane Alden is researcher with the Nevada Policy Research Institute. She can be contacted at

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