Nevada’s U.S. senators appeared together on a Las Vegas television station a week ago and offered divergent opinions on the character and motives of the citizens who showed up at Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville ranch to exercise their First and Second amendment rights.

Democratic Sen. Harry Reid labeled them “domestic terrorists.”

Republican Sen. Dean Heller called them “patriots.”

To us it matters less what you call the citizens on hand to protest the Bureau of Land Management attempt to confiscate several hundred head of Bundy’s free-range cattle, than what you call the unmitigated show of militaristic force displayed by the estimated 200 heavily armed federal agents on the ground and in the air and lying prone atop hills with sniper rifles aimed.

The operation was scrubbed and the cattle already rounded up were released on April 12 when a tense standoff between the federal agents and the armed civilians threatened to explode into a massacre.

In one televised exchange, Heller, sitting next to Reid said, “I have a very different view. … What Senator Reid may call domestic terrorists, I call patriots.”

Reid replied, “If they’re patriots, we’re in very big trouble.”

If this is how the federal government enforces civil laws, we are in very big trouble.

In a 2008 campaign speech, then-Sen. Barack Obama deviated from his teleprompter and told a Colorado audience, “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” And apparently as well armed.

In recent years police departments across the country have beefed up their SWAT teams, purchasing large-caliber weapons, body armor and armored personnel carriers. Instead of knocking on a door to serve a search warrant on a petty drug suspect, the standard operating procedure is to break down the door with a battering ram, guns drawn, cocked and at ready. The carnage has been well documented — including a 92-year-old woman shot to death by Atlanta police when they broke through the wrong door.

Federal agencies are soldiering up, too.

As Investor’s Business Daily editorialists recently pointed out, BLM is not the only federal agency with a private army.

This past summer Environmental Protection Agency agents invaded a gold mine in Alaska in search of violations of the Clean Water Act. They wore body armor and carried assault weapons.

Other federal agencies so armed include the Library of Congress, the Federal Reserve Board, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Yes, even NOAA, whose job it is to forecast the weather — apparently to fend off militant climate change deniers.

When Gen. Thomas Gage was ordered to confiscate the colonists’ powder, shot and cannon stored in Concord, he sent hundreds of heavily armed Redcoats. They were confronted on April 19, 1775, by armed British citizens — call them domestic terrorists or patriots if you like. To this day, no one knows for sure who fired the first shot. It might have even been an accidental discharge.

The BLM turned a simple law enforcement operation into an invasion and thus escalated the situation perilously close to wanton bloodshed.

Heller is calling for congressional hearings into why the BLM acted like an invading army in our own country, treating citizens like enemy combatants. We agree. It is time for our government agents to stand down and treat people like fellow citizens — before we experience another Branch Davidian slaughter or Ruby Ridge sniper assassination. — TM