An investigative journalist who has reported on the federal government’s alleged sale of hundreds of wild horses to a known kill-buyer has released a video of a face-off in which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar threatens to punch him during an impromptu interview.
Dave Philipps, now a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette, conducted a two-minute interview with the cowboy-hat-wearing Salazar, a Democrat, at an event taking place at an Obama campaign office in Fountain, Colo., on Election Day.
In September, Philipps' article for the online ProPublica investigative group claimed the Bureau of Land Management, which manages hundreds of millions of acres of public land in 11 states, was knowingly selling wild horses to a middleman who is thought to have taken them to Mexico for eventual slaughter.
The ProPublica piece centered on Coloradan Tom Davis, who has purchased 1,700 wild horses from the federal government but can't produce documentation on what happened to them. Davis is a proponent of horse slaughter, which is illegal on wild horses roaming public lands. For two years, he has sought investors for a slaughterhouse, the story said. The piece also pointed out that Davis and Salazar are neighbors in Colorado.
During the Election Day interview, much of which was videotaped and posted on YouTube, Philipps asks Salazar several questions, including the fate of the missing wild horses. Salazar, which the website Politico has reported will stay on for a second term in the Obama administration, said he didn’t know much about the case but understood that an investigation was being conducted.
"Let me just say, fact is, there are huge issues with wild horses and mustangs on the public domain and there is a major effort on the part of the Bureau of Land Management to make sure that a problem that has gone unaddressed for a very long time gets addressed and we are working on that very diligently," Salazar said, according to an audiotape of the interview being circulated by wild horse advocates.
Moments after the brief exchange, according to the video and witnesses, Salazar approached Philipps, saying, "Don't you ever ... You know what, you do that again ... I'll punch you out."
A Salazar spokesman said Tuesday that, "the secretary regrets the exchange."
Ginger Kathrens, executive of the Cloud Foundation, a Colorado-based wild horse advocacy group, was present for the exchange.
“You could see Salazar’s face tighten up on the question about the horses,” she told the Los Angeles Times. "Afterward, he walked away and I reached out to shake his hand. He brushed back by me and wouldn’t shake hands with me. He was in Dave’s face. He was very close to him. I half-expected him to pull a six-shooter out of his holster.”
Critics have for years said the BLM was decimating the numbers of wild horses in Western states, influenced by the powerful livestock lobby that promotes the use of public land for cattle grazing.
Suzanne Roy, director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, said in a release that Salazar’s "duck and cover" isn’t acceptable:
"That the man responsible for the federal government’s $80-million-a-year wild horse program doesn’t know or doesn’t care that it’s spiraling out of control is shocking,” the group said. "His Bureau of Land Management is tasked with protecting these horses, yet they’re being slaughtered in Mexico and the Secretary’s only solution appears to be to threaten reporters who try to hold him accountable.”