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."
@dwicjan you obviously didn't read all the stories related to this guy.
There, Bundy, is the republicans hero that fox fake news supported
I heard the liberals have a new hero from Eurpope, you know their favorite people,
Republicans always had a hero from Europe – name is Hitler. Represents the best the Republican Party has to offer.
It amazes me that people actually think slaves had any kind of a family life. Really people? Slaves were considered animals, they had no rights. They lived in shacks and were fed scraps. They were beaten, raped and had families ripped apart as soon as the child was old enough to go to the field. What kind of life was that? They were forbidden to even learn to read. I can't believe people actually agree with his statements. Well actually I can since the hoods have come off since 08. This guy is a deadbeat welfare recipient hypocrite. A typical republican.
"GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who had also defended Bundy during the stand-off and 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."
You cannot be a racist and a patriot at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. Patriots embrace the ideas of this country, its founding AND how it has evolved. Racism, sexism really any kind of discrimination is wholly unacceptable in this modern era. Those that believe it, practice it and behave in manners uncivilized are not Patriots. They love only they own limited, nasty view of the people and the world. They do not deserve our respect or consideration.
Should they lose their right to speak and believe? No. Its their right to believe those heinous things. Should we shout them down, drown them out and make it clear that their ideas and concerns are unacceptable? Yes we should.
This isn't merely a difference of opinion, this is hate. This is bigotry. Its is far too common from the right wing. Conservatives should not just distance themselves from this but they should say "If you feel like this dirtbag, we don't want your vote. We don't want your support. We don't want your money. We do not, will not represent you in any way as long as you push these ideas."
This really goes for both sides. Its more common on the right, but there are special interest zealots that focus on one issue and express hate for others. Not every person who has concerns over affirmative action is a racist, not every person that doesn't like abortion is a mysogynist.
We get what we vote for here. If you want more reasonable leaders. Vote for them.
Lmao! Perfect. I love the sight of politicians squirming !!!!! I needed a good laugh today !! :) . The sight of a man who thumbed his nose at paying a fair rate to graze his cattle for twenty years , using local militia bullies to be a freeloader, succeeding in putting both of his feet in his mouth is priceless!! Rotfl !!!:)
I understand the outcry in these statements. I for one have always been leaning towards democrat but am now leaning towards the GOP. It's funny that the democrats claim to want more freedom but only if your different. I for one like owning guns and the want to take the right away from me. The last government to do so was Hitler's Nazi Germany. Humm..where is the democratic party headed? You are all fooling yourself if you believe that there are no bigots, racist, or down right haters in the democratic party. The government is full of that on both side. You don't think Obama stating that a kid of his would look a certain way is not being racist to those he couldn't look like?
Wesley Snipes is wondering when Bundy is coming to join him in a cell.....if there's any justice...Bundy can then discuss his views on The Negro nice and quiet-like with Wesley and any other Negro interested in joining the discussion.
If there's any justice.....
" the govt way overreacted "
Give it a rest. These militia folks showed up ARMED to prevent lawful confiscation of this guy's cattle for his failure to pay the grazing fees, failure to obey lawfully enacted regulations and failure to obey court orders and judgments. They had their own people on the overpass, etc., set up as "snipers." They spouted ridiculous crap about using women as human shields. They wear tinfoil cowboy hats and run around thinking he federal gov't was going to "raid" the ranch and "open fire on innocents" because they were raised to think ridiculous things about the federal gov't and their fellow human beings who work for it. THEY escalated the situation. THEY chose to stand in the way of what Bundy brought on himself. THEY are primarily political activists who saw an opportunity to make hay and get the MSM to broadcast their anti-gov't screeds. There is ZERO "government overreach" in the gov't owning property and expecting people who use it to pay fees. The grazing fees from Bundy and other welfare ranchers barely even cover 1/4 of the cost of managing that land. He's nothing but a selfish, self-entitled, self-centered jackhole who saw his opportunity to use the current political climate to escalate his situation to the point where he could get publicity for it and it would not surprise me in the slightest to find out that he had some inside help from conservative political activists who saw an opportunity to make him a hero and weave a rallying-cry narrative around him.
People need to learn that words have meaning. He absolutely said many dumb things but racist? Sorry, no he didn't and if you think he did get yourself a dictionary
He is by far enjoying the largest welfare anybody could imagine. Feeding his hundreds of animals on public lands for free and accusing others to be welfare recipients, what a HYPOCRITE!
Free speech = speak whatever you want. But it doesn't prevent you from sounding stupid.
Altair Dafydd wrote: "He said what many of us on the right think and whisper among ourselves when in polite company."
Yes, we know right-wingers are horrible racists. Thanks for confirming.
Outrightly evil man who can point gun at law enforcement and authorities
The US is refusing to face a terrible internal enemy; the extreme right wing and it's allies in government. The longer the US ignores the problem the worse it will get.
If a black rancher had failed to pay for his grazing permits and effectively stolen feed off of public land (for which taxpayers are paying), and had then staged an armed standoff with the government, precisely how many Republicans would come to his defense? This guy is a classic moocher...stealing what isn't his and forcing other people to foot the bill for it. But he's white, so he's a Republican hero instead of a freeloader. The Republicans aren't even trying to hide their hypocrisy, and it's hilarious.
mike whined: "i guess he is as racist as harry reid who once called obama 'clean'"
Deflect, deflect, deflect, deflect, deflect. You can try, but you can never deflect from the fact that American right-wingers are notorious racists.
How many farm subsidies does he get? That is corporate welfare
Now we're getting to see the REAL Bundy.... Is this any surprise to anyone? Not me...
This story epitomizes the recent cognitive dissonance on the far right / "Libertarian" right in America. In the same breath, Bundy whines about supposed abusers of government subsidies but he sees no contradiction with his own well-documented misappropriation of public property. Also, those "sympathizers" in the photo with their Obamacare-is-a-vulture poster look like they may be old enough to have seen the benefits of Medicare themselves. Basically the far right are selfish and expect special treatment. They don't mind when Uncle Sam pays their medical bills or gives them a free ride (in Bundy's case to the tune of a million bucks!) but they are simply outraged if anyone else benefits from government largesse. Bundy's grunting about "Negroes" gives us an idea of where they draw the line when it comes to who should or should not benefit from America's vast public resources.
The republicans are so out of touch with real people. They seem to be intrigued and stand up for the Ted Nugent's, the Duck Dynasty stars and the trespassing freeloader Bundy. Add in their belief that "Santa is white" as is Jesus, and that about sums up their intellect – sadly missing brain cells.
"Why is it anyone or anything that stands up to Obama will eventually have the race card used against them"
Why is it anyone or anything that stands up to Obama eventually winds up getting caught spewing abhorrent, racist claptrap?
Wow...the Republicans all thought he was pretty wonderful until he was dumb enough to articulate what most of them actually think. Can they say "hypocrisy"? You bet your Aunt Fanny they can't!
Mo Elleithee do you even know what racism means???? Since when is Duck Dynasty comments regarding LGBT racist? I did not know that being LGBT is a race........and these people are our leaders???? Yikes.....