Cliven Bundy threatens violence against federal agents as Sean Hannity eggs him on
Sean Hannity on Jan. 22, 2014. [Fox News]

Sean Hannity suggested Tuesday night that federal authorities are plotting a sneak attack on Cliven Bundy's ranch after they appeared to back away from a standoff.

The recalcitrant rancher threatened violence against federal agents if they dared try to arrest him on the orders of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

"First I’ve got to say, Harry, get your army out of Nevada, get your army away from my ranch and off Clark County public land – and keep it out!" Bundy said. "And if they come, we’ll deal with them tonight. That’s what we’ve got to do, we’ll just deal with you. Whether you got guts enough to do it, come on."

Hannity told the rancher he spoke earlier in the day to former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, who warned that federal agents planned a surprise raid on the ranch.

“We have intel sources, government and law enforcement insiders, that told us the federal government was considering pulling back, having us think everything was fine, and then when we got comfortable and dropped our defenses, then they would come in and raid the ranch,” Mack told Hannity. “We don’t know if it was a specific plan, but after hearing Harry Reid’s comments, we think they’re going to come in for a surprise midnight raid.”

That conflicted with another report cited by Hannity, who noted a statement by the Bureau of Land Management’s director – a former Reid staffer -- that indicated the federal agency would resolve the matter administratively and through the courts.

“That’s not new, that’s what they’ve been trying to do for the last 20 years,” Bundy said. “The last two years, they’ve had about seven United States attorneys working on me every day, and I guarantee, just come on, we’ll take you on.”

But Hannity stirred the pot, telling Bundy that he had to believe something was brewing, and the rancher betrayed his ties to the Posse Comitatus movement that believes local authority trumps federal authority.

“I would (surrender) to the proper authorities,” Bundy said. “It would have to be Clark County sheriff, if he (came) to arrest me, I would definitely let him arrest me. He’s the only man with arresting power in Clark County, Nev.”

The dispute centers on Bundy’s inaccurate belief that the federal government does not own the desert lands where his family has grazed cattle since about 1877 – or 13 years after Nevada became a state.

The federal government claimed ownership of western lands from the earliest days of the United States, and even admission to the union did not turn these lands over to the individual states, said history professor William Rowley, of the University of Nevada-Reno.

The government gave away or sold much of this land throughout the 19th century to encourage westward expansion, but Rowley said the U.S. was left “holding the bag” with some of the least desirable lands – usually mountainous or desert lands, as in the case in the Bundy dispute.

The federal government has regulated grazing on these publicly owned lands and issued permits since at least 1891, Rowley said, and the BLM has overseen grazing since its creation in 1946.

“As I understand the Bundy situation, it is simply the failure of the rancher to abide by the terms of the grazing permit, which is a contract of sorts,” Rowley told Raw Story. “Bundy is questioning – or denying – the legitimacy of the permit system, and I guess the federal ownership of these lands and the obligation of the federal government to regulate resources and not give away public resources to private parties in ‘windfall’ situations.”

Reid has come to be seen as the villain by Bundy’s supporters after reports that a Chinese company that employs the senator’s son intends to build a solar farm on the disputed federally owned land.

“As you hear the sheriff speaking, Harry Reid speaking, and you hear all this, what are your plans?” Hannity asked Bundy’s son as his producers showed close-up shots of firearms strapped to militia members’ belts and thighs. “I would assume, as Cliven’s son, you want to protect your dad, what are your plans if, in fact, they come late in the night?”

“They’re going to do what they want to do, if that’s their plan, but again, if they took him or whatever else they did, I mean, even if they killed him, the people will answer to that, and what I mean by that, they will answer that,” said the rancher’s son, Ammon Bundy. “They will be the ones to make it right, they’ll be the ones to stand up. Millions of people know what’s going on.”

Hannity bragged that some of those millions got their information from his program.

“In my mind, there’s no doubt that so many people showed up to support you, and I would even argue a little bit that the media coverage that myself and some other people have given to this case played a part in this because none of it made sense,” Hannity said.

Then he asked Bundy’s son, point blank, if he worried federal agents would kill his father or another family member.

“This battle has been going on for my whole life, almost, and if death were our main fear, we wouldn’t be here today,” Ammon Bundy said, as the TV screen showed the Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. “Freedom is much greater than death. People have to understand that.”

Watch the entire segment posted online by Media Matters: