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.
Follow @LACaldwellDC Follow @KilloughCNN Follow @psteinhausercnnFollow @politicalticker
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."
His comments concerning life in the Old South were not racist in any way , shape, or form...just his own observations about what HAD been, not what he wanted them to be.
Wow, I am a more conservative and am blown away...this is hilarious. However, let's be real...just because I stand by someone's rightsfor one aspect, doesnt mean I stand by them for everything. I stand by Westboros freedom of speech (but would love to slap the crap out of them and not go to jail) but despise what they say...just as I support the right of the KKK and BPP to protest or march, but dont support their cause.
This guy had his rights trampled on...and now, he shows his butt...so be it...doesnt make him a hero...just freedom preserved.
I guess Bundy must be black too, since he has got free grazing for over 20 years and at a discount price. What does this guy want. TROUBLE, along with Fox News.
Ya know, it always amuses me, who the GOP/Tea Party hold up as their next....'hero' of the common man??
First it was the violent Zimmerman.
Now, it is a racist thief named Bundy.
Next, it will be an ex-concentration camp guard from Bavaria, who while driving under the influence, ran a red light and hit a van full of black nuns....killing 3 of them.
I remember an article about the KKK leader wanting to rebrand. The rebranding is now known as the Tea Party.
There more white welfare recipients in the Appliacian Mountains towns and valley than there are blacks. Matter of fact in the Northwest we have more white welfare recipients than blacks.
Blacks are more visible because they are in the city.
Mr. Bundy is a Welfare recipient because cheap rent on public land. The federal government purchased or annexated with government bonds back in 1880's. It does not belong to the County. It's a privilege, not a right. I should know I farmed and know the law. He is nothing more than a thug and thief.
If BLM were smart, just cut off his water source, but why do dumb animals have suffer for a stupid, argonant human!
Chame in the people how support that men.
Funny, no lengthy articles of Fed bashing against Bundy, the Fox cult hero today...go figure.
Here's a thought.....
The government owns what? 86% of Nevada? When did they take control of it? Before Bundy's family used the land? Should clauses be in place?
What about CA.? I heard government owns a ton of it as well and many other states. Why not sell some of it and pay bills?
So you think the British didn't say the same thing about us when we wanted to control America? People were running from GOVERNMENT and wanted to create a NEW COUNTRY. So why is Bundy different with our government? OVERREACH BIG TIME. When does it stop? When they say they own your house? They demand you pay them for living and breathing? The courts will uphold them so what's your next choice? They'll have you on here saying you didn't pay YOUR dues to the government...etc
And since the media's are SO BIAS and bought and paid for they'll always side with government.
When does people say "Enough is enough" no matter what your political view is?
Isn't there a few things that both sides "Citizens" can agree on and hold our government responsible for? Instead of letting them sidetrack us with articles like this?
1.) American jobs both white and blue collar – put people on government assistance back to work
2.) Minimal government control
3.) Future planning on jobs for our children
4.) Control the spending and deficit - We have to do this in our homes
Can we agree on this? Can both sides make our government adhere to this? Right is right and wrong is wrong no matter how government or media reports it.
I personally think the government has done a GREAT injustice to the black communities. We should demand that we bring enough jobs BACK INTO this country to put all working age people back to work.
Last – Totally disregard all articles like this, work together and focus especially when we vote. OH YEAH! TERM LIMITS FOR ALL POLITICIANS. They are the biggest drain on taxpayer money and it happens for life.
Ever wonder how politicians all get rich working for the government? I do....... maybe cause the laws they pass they know about before we do and make investments that they CONTROL AND KNOW will pay off.
I want the Tea party and the liberal party to get together and agree to terms about items like mentioned above and hold our government responsible at the voting booths.
If the rancher would have been black and tea party supporter, did fox and Tea party will support the black rancher? Of course, they won't. He will be in prison by now.
Bundy needs to go to jail immediately for his racist comments.
Telling the truth is now called racism? Dems will pander to any group that will not work. Wasn't there an article by cnn a couple months back talking about the high rates of abortion and single motherhood in the black community?
what? him? a racist? no way! surprise. folks he just represents himself. period. not you.not me not the Demodums or the Republican-idiots. and no the Republican base are not racist. This stuff makes great TV. Just walk away from it. Dont give him or anyone else with a junky voice a platform. Not my idea but just let the Feds file a lien on his property. They WILL get the last laugh. I don't see any Tea Party people joining the fight so quit spreading rumors. Everyone needs to back off. Once the Feds announce they have won by filing the liens the issue is over.
Wait, am I the only one that is amazed that he thinks that slaves had a family life? Does he not know that children were sold off once they became "useful", and families were torn apart? That's what he thinks is better off?
Oh, and most welfare recipients are white, and live in the south.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy" – Bundy on people in the projects. This from a guy who grazes his cows illegally and for free on government owned land.
Bundy says what 90% of Americans think.....what's the problem?
Bundy had better be careful. Now that he is being viewed as a "racist", that is all the justification that this Justice Department will need to take him out. He has just been declared an enemy of the state.
Leave it to the liberal media (aka CNN) to bring race is as the issue. Race is NOT the issue here. Besides, the liberal, as usual, construed what the guy was even talking about. It was not a racist comment.
You obviously didn't read it, or don't understand that grossly inappropriate statements about a "race" of people defines "racist". As such, it simply helps define the people the Right calls their "heroes", and ought to call into question the Right in these United States, and what they wish to accomplish. Right now, it appears very anti-government AND racist.
I drove through Nevada once, and I saw a bunch of cowboys doing it with sheep. Based on this one observation, I think I can say that I am as expert on cowboys as Bundy is about black people. I guess we can expect a Cliven Bundy/Phil Robertson 2016 ticket from the GOP for sure.
And it was so WEIRD to hear Glenn Beck saying "Er, I own a lot of land that I rent, and if people don't pay rent, I have to kick them off." When BECK is the one being realistic, you know you are down the rabbit hole again . . .
Bundy is no outlier in the conservative ranks; rather, he's their posterboy
Well, in all fairness Sniffit, he's their latest posterboy, there are so many yet to come before 2016 gets here I'm sure.
@ Rudy NYC
I'm juicing today Rudy so the clean-up won't be too bad.
It is quite something to hear this government freeloader (subsidies anyone?) and thief project unto others the very thing that he's in the headlines for.
Quite the GOPeeing Teatard nutjob.
Oh and look, is that a copy of our Bill of Rights in his "heart" pocket, and is that the 'Merikun flag conveniently and poignantly flying behid him?
The only thing missing is his gun.....maybe if the camera had panned down just a tad, or maybe focused on his front porch.....we'd have a "complete" picture.
Perhaps, just Perhaps, Clive has stumbled upon a topic that can unite both the Left and the Right. I'll start the bidding:
'out of control' government: Will trade swat-team-like arming of Federal Agents for elimination of the NSA, DEA, ATF and Homeland Security.
'lazy entitlement mindset': Will trade generational welfare and reinstating the work requirement for the end of Corporate Welfare and laws requiring 15% of new hires to be from previous welfare reciepients.
'Tax Reform": Will trade Romney's '47% Not Paying Taxes' for Capital Gains being taxed at same rates as normal income plus a 'Wealth Tax' on the Uberrich.
'Racism': Will trade all forms of Affirmitive Action, hiring practices and quotas for enforced minority representation in private industry at the current percentages of the population.
'Racism II: Will trade elimination of racist rants, words and attitudes for minorities ending the cultural seperation they enforce plus actually fixing the culture that enables those attitudes.
'Immigration': Will trade tougher immigration laws for jail time for company owners and stockholders who employ illegals.
'Income Inequality" Will trade hands-off(except for Safety) governmental regulation of private industry for limiting CEO/managemet compensation to 6 times the wages of the lowest-paid worker in their company.
Anyone want to start some horse trading?
This guy and Sweaty Teddy need run together on the same ticket.
Wesley Snipes goes to prison for tax evasion but this old coot who owes over a million is allowed to walk free. Sounds like white justice at work again. They need to firebomb this old coot like they did to MOVE in 1985.
"When did they take control of it? Before Bundy's family used the land? "
Yes, before they were even there. That's already been proven. Moreover, this is all covered by the federal Constitution he claims to love and is certainly covered by Nevada's constitution, which contains a "paramount allegiance" clause declaring the state's and its residents' paramount allegiance (i.e., allegiance above ALL else) to the USA and federal Constitution. The guy is simply full of cow patties.
Go and read what Harry Reid said about Obama if you want to here some racism.
Yes he is a great GOP poster child. The unpatriotic crook should be in jail.