Updated 9:29 p.m. ET 4/24/2014
(CNN) - What started out as a standoff over land rights may be turning into a controversy over race.
Racist comments from Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy - who earlier this month appeared to win a highly publicized standoff against federal authorities over his two-decade long illegal grazing of cattle on public land - are giving Democrats a new weapon to attack some top Republicans who earlier came to Bundy's defense.
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And the controversial comments also call into question moves by Fox News and some other conservative media that highlighted the story and painted Bundy as a hero in his battle against federal authorities.
Bundy, 67, won his standoff against federal rangers after armed militiamen came to his side. Even with the incident over, Bundy continued to talk to a dwindling crowd of media from his ranch, about 100 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
The comments that sparked the latest controversy came this weekend when Bundy recalled to supporters about a time he drove by a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, according to a report from The New York Times.
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," Bundy said, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids - and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch - they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" Bundy continued. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
What Cliven Bundy's comments on race reveal
In a press conference Thursday, Bundy defended and repeated his comments but emphasized he was merely "wondering" whether African-Americans were better off as slaves.
"And that's a question I put before the world: Are they better, or were they better then? I'm not saying I thought they should be slaves, or I wasn't even saying they was (sic) better off; I'm wondering if they're better off," he said.
Bundy said he questions whether those living under government subsidies are living as slaves to the state, but denied he held racist views.
"I might not have a very big word base or vocabulary, I guess, but let me tell you something: When I say slavery, I mean slavery...Slavery is about when you take away choices from people, and where you have forced labor," he said. "You think that's what I'm about, America? If it is, you're sure wrong, because I don't believe in any type of that stuff."
And Bundy didn't back down in an interview Thursday night with CNN's Bill Weir. He questioned whether blacks are better off now when "they don't have nothing to do with their children, their family unit is ruined (and) I don't think they have the life that they should have."
"I don't think I'm wrong," he told CNN, insisting that he'd spoken "from my heart." "I think I'm right."
Asked whether he was any more or less a "welfare queen" as those who get entitlement checks - since his cattle have been feeding off the government, literally, by eating grass on public land - Bundy said, "I might be a welfare queen, but I'll tell you I'm producing something for America and using a resource that nobody else would use or could use."
He said, "I'm putting red meat on your table. Maybe I'm not doing enough, but I'm trying."
'Comments are completely beyond the pale'
Thursday morning, hours after The New York Times story went viral, the Nevada Democratic Party put out a statement saying "These comments are reprehensible, and every Republican politician in the state of Nevada who tried to latch on to Cliven Bundy's newfound celebrity with TEA Partiers and the militia movement should be ashamed of their actions."
"Every Republican elected official who risked inciting violence to gain political capital out of Cliven Bundy now owes the people of Nevada an apology for their irresponsible behavior of putting their own political future ahead of the safety of Nevadans," added the Nevada Democrats.
Some top national Republicans quickly condemned the remarks.
Sen. Rand Paul, who originally supported Bundy's case, issued a statement Thursday morning decrying Bundy's racial comments.
"His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him," said the Kentucky Republican, who's seriously considering a 2016 presidential run.
GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who earlier called his supporters "patriots", also "completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy's appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way," according to his spokesperson, Chandler Smith.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who had not previously weighed in on the land dispute, said in a statement that "Bundy's comments are completely beyond the pale. Both highly offensive and 100% wrong on race."
Democrats had already been on the attack against Bundy before his racial comments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – Nevada's senior senator - last week blasted Bundy's supporters as "domestic terrorists," saying they were arming themselves with automatic weapons and positioning "snipers in strategic locations."
One man, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack told a reporter the militia were considering putting "all the women" on the front lines.
"If they're going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers," he said.
Questions about media coverage
Some conservative-leaning pundits painted Bundy as an anti-goverment hero. Fox News' Sean Hannity was criticized by liberal media outlets for frequently hosting Bundy on his television program and appearing to defend the rancher.
Hannity said Thursday on his radio show that Bundy's "comments are beyond repugnant to me."
"They are beyond despicable to me. They are beyond ignorant to me," he said, adding that his interest in Bundy's case was entirely about government overreach.
He also chided what he called the liberal media, arguing that they ignore racist comments by Democrats and only focus on Republicans.
"Every conservative I know does not support racism, period," he said.
Another Fox News host, Greta Van Susteren, wrote on her blog Thursday morning that she condemns Bundy's comments.
Others had previously warned fellow conservatives not to get too fired up about the Nevada dispute. Conservative host Glenn Beck said on his show that "10 or 15 percent" of the people who were defending Bundy online were saying things "that are truly frightening."
"They don't care what the facts are," he said. "They just want a fight."
Tucker Carlson, founder of the conservative news outlet the Daily Caller, said on Fox that he sympathizes with the Bundys, but "it's important to point out that this land does not belong to them and that's not a minor distinction, it's the essence of private property."
For his part, Sen. Paul had also cautioned both sides, including Reid, to calm their rhetoric.
"Let's try to have a peaceful resolution to this," he said last week on Fox News.
While Republicans are now trying to distance themselves from Bundy, that's not stopping Democrats from going after them for supporting Bundy in the first place. And the Democratic National Committee says the incident is "more evidence of the shallowness of the GOP's outreach efforts."
"Remember Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson? His racist comments last December were in the same vein as Bundy's. Yet GOP leaders from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Lindsey Graham, and others rushed to defend (Robertson's) comments against a liberal assault. Republicans even invited the Duck Dynasty stars as their guests to the State of the Union!," wrote DNC Communications Director Mo Elleithee.
"And therein lies the GOP's problem. If you ever want to be taken seriously for your outreach efforts, you might want to start by not defending racists," Elleithee added.
Battle over land rights
The Bundy standoff is emblematic of the larger anti-government sentiment around the country that has been amplified with the creation of the tea party movement in 2009. But the latest move in a two-decade-long tug of war between Bundy and the federal government is bringing to light the delicate balance that has lasted between citizens in the West and the federal government over the use of federally owned land for generations.
What made Nevada rancher fight the feds?
One protester from neighboring Utah, Stephen L. Dean, 45, called the Bureau of Land Management's actions "tyranny in government." And a banner at the protest site blared: "Has the West been won? Or has the fight just begun!"
In the western states, public lands are a big deal. Almost everyone uses them or depends on them. They are key to people's recreational hiking, fishing, hunting and skiing. And they are critical to people's livelihood, as they are used to cut timber, drill oil, mine coal and ranch cattle.
Vast swaths of the land in the West are predominately public. In Nevada, for example, 87% of the state is owned by the federal government, and the Bureau of Land Management oversees 245 million acres of public lands mostly west of the Mississippi River, not including the lands overseen by the National Forest Service and half a dozen other federal agencies.
In Nevada, ranchers depend on the federal lands for their livelihood. The government began allowing the use of the land in 1877 to promote the economic development of dry, difficult-to-cultivate desert areas. So it offered land for dirt cheap. Bundy says his family has owned the ranch since about the time the Desert Land Act passed.
A version of the law still exists today, allowing ranchers to graze their cattle on public lands for a nominal rate. The fee is cheaper than what the rancher would pay the state or a private land owner, but the tradeoff is that the rancher has to share the land with the public.
After the desert tortoise became a protected species in 1993, the Bureau of Land Management rebuked or phased out the permits of ranchers in the designated area in southern Nevada.
Bundy is the last remaining rancher, refusing to leave and refusing to pay more than $1 million worth of fines. Bundy lost all efforts at appeal and litigation. In an effort to enforce the law, the BLM attempted to round up Bundy's cattle and was met with a clan of armed defenders, leading to the current stalemate between the government and Bundy.
The Nevada Democrat had already been on the attack against Bundy before his racial comments. Last week the state's senior senator blasted Bundy's supporters as "domestic terrorists," saying they were arming themselves with automatic weapons and positioning "snipers in strategic locations."
Politicians might be running scared from what he said, but the conservative media and agitprop punditry machine very rapidly came out to defend him. Just look at what Loesch is trying to say about it.
Fact is, Cliven Bundy simply gave voice to what the GOP/Teatrolls are thinking and what has been driving them into such a ridiculous 6-year fit of reactionary pique in response to the election of a black man as POTUS. This guy's nonsense is not unique or singular or isolated. It's a pervasive belief system and perception of society that runs rampant through the GOP/Teatroll base and it's precisely that belief system and those perceptions that GOPers/Teatrolls are trying to tap into, rile, encourage and feed when they dogwhistle and code-speak like disciples of the Church of Atwater. Nobody's fooled by talk about "inner city culture problems" and "welfare queens" and "moochers and takers" and we're all well aware of their fundamental and incorrect assumptions about things such as equating poverty and reliance on social assistance with being a minority or turning the word illegal into a noun that suddenly means "Hispanic," etc. Cliven Bundy is no outlier in the conservative ranks; rather, he's their posterboy.
YAWN... As usual... the lefties and liberals play the race card when their out of control government looks bad. But Demorcats can make racist comments and it is a forgiveable misspeak.
Politicians might be running scared from what he said, but the conservative media and agitprop punditry machine very rapidly came out to defend him, trying to spin it away. Just look at what Loesch is trying to say about it.
Fact is, Bundy simply gave voice to what the GOP/Teatrolls are thinking and what drove them into such an inconsolable 6-year fit of reactionary pique in response to the election of a black man as POTUS. Bundy's nonsense is not unique or singular or isolated. It's a pervasive belief system and perception of society that runs rampant through the GOP/Teatroll base. It's precisely that belief system and those perceptions that GOPers/Teatrolls are trying to tap into and feed when they dogwhistle and code-speak like disciples of the Church of Atwater. Nobody's fooled by talk about "inner city culture problems" and "welfare queens" and "voter fraud." We're all well aware of the GOP/Teatrolls' fundamental and incorrect assumptions about things, such as equating poverty and reliance on social assistance with being a minority or turning the word "illegal" into a synonym for "Hispanic," etc.
Bundy is no outlier in the conservative ranks; rather, he's their posterboy.
Cliven Bundy. Conservative hero. Racist. Conservative hero.
This guy was in the wrong from the start but won fans over the show of force by BLM. Now he`s in the wrong and is a loser as well.
Wow, his remarks are soooo similar to that of Paul Ryan, and the Koch Brothers. Wow, just amazing how the Party puts the words in their heads, then sez "OK Brainwashed, lets move on to next one!" These republicans need to go join PUTIN in Russia... Really, they are communistic and definetly Class warfar leaders on the all mens white group on the right.
So, he's calling black people welfare bums and he's mooched off government land for 20 years? We always see in others that which is in ourselves.
YAWN... As usual... the lefties and liberals play the race card when their out of control government looks bad. But Demorcats can make racist comments and it is a forgiveable misspeak.
Er, no. The welfare queen rancher's comments were quite blatant. Perhaps if you took the time to READ the article above PRIOR to posting you would have a clue. LOL – did anyone else hear that Burning Man is considering having their next event on the public land the welfare queen rancher has been stealing from the taxpayers for the last 20 years?
Dude is wrong. Government way overreacted. There is no doubt that this is wrong on all sides. He might be a racist, too. In classic Rudy fashion though, who made the following comment?
“He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately. He was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination," they write.
So who made those comments?
"the lefties and liberals play the race card "
Did you not read what he said? If you call this the....you know what...no...please do...please yammer incessantly about the race card and calling this reaction to what Bundy said "playing the race card" and please get as many of your conservative RWNJ Teatroll friends to run around loudly and publicly proclaiming that this is "just a distraction" and "liberals playing the race card." Hasten your demographic armaggedon, by all means. It can't get here fast enough. Please proceed.
Seems this rancher is sitting on HIS porch collecting ILLEGAL government welfare, in that his "socialist cows" have been grazing on the public teat for decades. The GOP needs to demand drug tests for all his cows, as they are ALL clearly "doing grass"! He claims to follow the Nevada Constitution, yet that very document gives control of the lands he uses over to the federal government. Also, if he hates the feds, while does his "faith" contain the 2nd amendment?
and screw this Bundy too. Put a lean on his land till he pays up his fines and get congress to UP the per head grazing fees from the 1800's fees and make these ranchers start payin UP> it is time for CONGRESS to start makin the wealthy pay up on every single matter!.... no more tax breaks if u make over $100,000 and bring back the PRE REAGAN taxes and import rules as well as refund all the funds to Social Security they have taken and given to other countries. Disgusting Congress.... Really
Not much different than what Bill Cosby has been saying for the last decade.
Paul Ryan said the same thing only in a different way.
Unfortunately, Bundy's unabashed and blatantly bigoted views regarding African Americans, work ethic, and slavery are not all that unique among Southern conservative whites. It isn't even uncommon in the rural sectors of the West and Midwest.
Many still believe that slavery was really not all that bad, as it helped strengthen the Southern economy while providing food and shelter to "the Negroes" ... who they believe to be inherently incapable of being self-sufficient.
As far as the original conflict is concerned, yeah, Bundy and his buddies are completely innocent ... in the same sense that someone who takes out a $30K loan to buy a car, refuses to make any payments on the loan, and then attempts to prevent the car from being repossessed are innocent.
Real American patriots, that bunch.
What is it with tea party anarchists and their "Second Amendment remedies" whenever they don't get their way?
Why doesn't CNN report on Harry Reid and the Chinese wanting to use that land for a wind farm….
Just a good old boy.
Never mean'n no harm….
unfortunately, Clive is almost right on. however white people also have govt aid and do nothing, it goes both ways.
the saying goes,,,,,,,,,,,,,, birds of feathers flocks together, i wonder how racists hannity and fox news , i should say lie news will spIN THIS???????????????/
Anyone that thinks this is an issue of "out of control government" or "government tyranny" really needs to have their head examined. This is a clear cut example of someone that thinks he is above the law. Clearly, the government has tried to work and be reasonable with this person but you cannot be reason with an irrational person. This is no different that those people that think the don't have to pay taxes and go off on their pseudo constitutional tirades and blather on about the 2nd Amendment. They also cannot pronounce the word "government;" they say things like "gubmit" or "gummit" instead. And for any person that promotes going against lawful authority (Sean Hannity), they are guilty of sedition. Seditious speech is not protected under the First Amendment.
It's a Tea Party, er, party! Bring your racism, your guns, your money and your big mouth to Nevada government land where we are freeloading. Um, No not like Those Kind of People mooching off the "guvmint".
Please, please, representing the brightest and best of conservatives everywhere, tell the American public just how you feel about every little thing that pops into your little head.
Liberal PACs, save your ad money. You cannot buy this kind of ad time.
In the past few years, the Republicans, and particularly the Tea Party, has been focused on two things: government by obstructionism, extortion and blackmail, and trying to refight the Civil War. (This is also true of the rhetoric of right-wing talk radio.) This man and his comments are simply a good example of the Frankenstein monster they have created, and will not be able to control. When you sow extremist rhetoric and ideas, you should not be surprised if you reap racists and bigots. Sad.
"Sen. Rand Paul, who originally supported Bundy's case, issued a statement Thursday morning decrying Bundy's racial comments ..."
Oh well. Perhaps Rand Paul ought to have "vetted" Bundy before he supported the guy to begin with.
Remind me how old these folks are that jump out of the woodwork before they think of the consequences.
Yeah. And they want us to think they're "presidential statesmen".
This is a story about a wealthy businessman who thinks he's entitled to use taxpayer-owned resources to make money FOR HIMSELF without paying for the use of those resources. He's a freeloader, and I'm sure that every night when he gets home he's LAUGHING at the Tea Party/militia crazies that are out there fighting for him.