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Sheriff caught in middle of Nevada rancher feud

bundy and gillespie shaking hands.jpg

April 12, 2-014: Rancher Cliven Bundy (2nd L) greets Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie in Bunkerville, Nevada. (Reuters)

The family of the Nevada rancher in a simmering feud with the federal government over rangeland rights is refocusing attention on the local sheriff, claiming he could put the standoff to rest with a wave of his hand. 

"He could stop this right now, and he knows that," Bailey Logue, daughter of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, recently told Fox News' "On the Record." 

Logue claimed all the sheriff has to do is say "no" to federal authorities who for years have gone after Bundy for unpaid grazing fees. "He has more power than all those feds do in this county. This is his county, he runs it. He has got full control over this county. If he says no, they have to back down," Logue said. 

Other supporters have made similar comments, suggesting Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie can tell the federal Bureau of Land Management to high-tail out of Nevada. 

Gillespie backed federal agents who seized close to 400 head of cattle from Bundy over his refusal to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees over the past two decades. 

The sheriff now appears to be caught in the middle of a broader battle between landowners and the federal government -- a battle not just over grazing rights, but the basic authority of federal officials. Despite the family's claims that the sheriff could kick out the feds in an instant, Gillespie has told media outlets he is simply following the law. 

The Nevada state Constitution would appear to underscore federal authority, as it allows the federal government to "employ armed force in compelling obedience to its Authority" if people try to secede or "forcibly resist the Execution of" federal laws. 

Gillespie, who was elected sheriff in 2007, has more than three decades under his belt with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. As Clark County's top law enforcement official, he oversees more than 4,700 sworn officers and civilian employees and is responsible for the safety of nearly 2 million Vegas residents as well as 40 million visitors to America's party capital each year. 

Gillespie's office has not made the sheriff available for an interview despite repeated requests by FoxNews.com. 

Before the ranch standoff, Gillespie's reputation was relatively unsullied. Earlier this year, Gillespie was named by the National Sheriff's Association as the winner of the Ferris E. Lucas Award as Sheriff of the Year for 2014. The award has only been given to 18 people since 1995 -- and there are 3,080 sheriffs in the country. 

Gillespie, though, surprised local residents when he announced late last year he would not seek a third term, instead saying he would finish out his second term through the end of 2014. 

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., also presented Gillespie with a Congressional Proclamation for being selected Sheriff of the Year. Gillespie's closeness with Reid has recently made him the target of vitriol-laced accusations by Bundy's supporters, who have called him a turncoat. 

Reid fanned the flames further Thursday when he referred to Bundy backers as "domestic terrorists" during an event sponsored by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Reid also indicated that Gillespie continues to play an active role with the feds -- Reid, according to the Review-Journal, said Gillespie is working with federal officials on putting together a task force to deal with the Bundy family. 

"Clive Bundy does not recognize the United States," Reid said. "The United States, he says, is a foreign government. He doesn't pay his taxes. He doesn't pay his fees. And he doesn't follow the law. He continues to thumb his nose at authority." 

Officials tell FoxNews.com that it's likely they'll renew their efforts soon, though they declined to say when a new push against Bundy would take place. 

For the Bundy family, it's a decades-old, legally complicated fight between the federal government and a family that has ranched the area since 1877. Last week's dustup ended Saturday with federal land managers backing down during a standoff with Bundy after hundreds of states' rights protesters and armed militia members showed up in support of Bundy and in protest of government officers seizing his cattle. 

But the feud dates back decades, and this isn't Bundy's first time at the rodeo. 

The dispute started in March 1993 when the Bureau of Land Management designated hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land for strict conservation efforts. 

That meant eliminating livestock grazing and imposing strict limits on off-road vehicle use in protected tortoise territory in Nevada. 

The BLM purchased grazing rights from cattle ranchers who had previously used BLM land. It was then when the Bundy family, who had a ranch in the area in 1877, accused the government of a "land grab," and said they wouldn't sell. 

The Bundy family has maintained they do not recognize federal authority on what they say is their land.