BUNKERVILLE, Nevada (Reuters) - A Nevada rancher who succeeded in reclaiming his seized cattle from federal land managers over the weekend by rallying armed supporters called on local sheriffs across the country on Monday to join his crusade against government overreach.
The federal Bureau of Land Management began a roundup of Cliven Bundy's cattle earlier this month, contending he owes over $1 million in back fees, penalties and other costs for grazing the herds on federally managed land.
The roundup in the area of Bunkerville, less than 74 miles northeast of Las Vegas, became a flashpoint for anti-government groups, militia members, conservative politicians and gun rights activists.
Federal rangers, facing about 1,000 of Bundy's armed supporters, backed down on Saturday and ultimately released at least 300 of the seized cattle, in a decision the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said was made to avoid harm to employees and the public.
The four-hour standoff temporarily shut down Interstate 15 and ended when the bureau stopped rounding up cattle, citing safety concerns, and then agreed to return the cows.
"Every sheriff across the United States of America, take away the guns from the United States bureaucrats," the 76-year-old Bundy said on Monday while standing on an un-hitched flatbed truck trailer at the entrance to his property.
Bundy was joined at his news conference by Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a Republican, who accused the federal government of overreaching in the dispute.
"Understand it is because of each and every one of you standing here and each and every one of our Americans watching us and protecting us with our firearms why this did not turn into Waco massacre or a Ruby Ridge," Fiore said, referring to two deadly 1990s confrontations involving federal agents.
The BLM and U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.
An official with a group that tracks extremist and hate groups said the call by Cliven Bundy to disarm federal law enforcement with agencies like the BLM is equivalent to calling for an armed rebellion against the U.S. government.
"They are stirring a very volatile and dangerous pot," said Mark Potok, senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center. "It could goad more people to do the same kind of thing."