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."
why is this a story? that is his opinion and he is welcome to it. this is America. if you don't like what he has to say don't listen
There are extremists on both sides of the US political divide, and Mr. Bundy no more represents mainstream conservatives than the Occutards and Environmentalist Extremists (for example) represent mainstream liberalism. The only difference is the coverage the Democrat Media gives to loud-mouthed morons on the right versus loud-mouthed morons on the left. Both are equally offensive, and equally unimportant – but only the ones who might hurt the GOP (and help the Democrat Party) are put under the media microscope.
As soon as someone sees my black skin.. I am automatically all of those things that a white republicans say about me. They have doomed the people you don't know personaly
Hey whatever happened to Joe the Plumber?? GOP changes heros like I change socks.
A freeloading rightwinger who drove by a housing project to form his view of the world is also a dumb-as-a-brick racist. Stunning! In more news, the new hero of the American right, Vladimer Putin, claims grazing rights in Poland.
If i don't pay my taxes will the gov. let me go?
This is too funny. This guy steals from the government, get terrorists to protect him (who should have been arrested and thrown in jail) then opens his mouth and OMG he's done. Would love to hear Fox News justify these comments.
Thank you Mike - you are absolutely correct. NOW, if the government can start right now putting these folks to work so they can rise above poverty, ..... Problem is the unemployment numbers are totally wrong. People, they take those numbers from the unemployment records (handing out the unemployment checks). So, when someone drops off the list because they have exceeded the legal amount of time you can remain on unemployment, then you are not counted and they "assume" you are employed. NOPE, you are not. But, you are now going to another group called WELFARE, if you were not already there with unemployment. The trick is JOBS. Someone needs to help Small Businesses so they can hire more folks (Obama Care ruined that for them). Oh, well.
The biggest mistake you fools made was thinking this man's opinion on race runs parallel to the need for government to be reigned in. I don't see how they relate. Both are wrong.
Meanwhile, we have more important issues like critically ill Veterans put onto secret electronic waiting lists in the VA hospital system and left to die because the system is full of government corruption (from ALL parties!). Personally, what happens to Clive Bundy is inconsequential compared to the vile loss of the life of the Veterans who fought for our freedom and defended our country.
If you pay the $1.35 for a cow and calf to graze on BLM land for a month you're a welfare recipient. If you don't pay you're a thief. If we apply Bundy's own 18th century thought process about slavery to his circumstances we should be thinking about getting a rope a putting an end to his crimes.
Why do people act as if they were surprised by this "welfare mom's" comments? Seems very clear to trace the line between his wanting the govt to foot his cattle bill and his feelings about black people. He wants welfare in his case but no one else gets any? Puleese. He should shut up and go back to....um....playing with his cows.
Dang it Bundy...you had a valid point about welfare not helping then you had to ruin it by making it a "negro", "slave", "cotton" thing...All the media asked him was what he had for breakfast...geez....given em an inch and they want to be a ruler.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" Bundy continued.
You mean, like grazing your cattle on the taxpayers' dime, Clive?
Wait, so he just said he used to see black people sitting on the porch, and he was wishing they had jobs instead of welfare? Clearly he has no rights.
Wow, there it goes your hero. Unbelievable. That's real problem he has with the government. So "the negro" should go back to be slaves because they would be better off. Not much to add to that. The guy still lives in the 17th century, he would like to roam the prairies like an old time cowboy, whipping slaves with his lash.
This sounds like the duck dynasty guy saying that 15 year old girls were perfectly good to get married. After that nobody felt the urgency of being seen in his company.
Bravo Fox!! you have a knock to pick the best people as a role model. Keep going like that...
Bundy's remarks are not racist, they are the truth. Tell me what the one in the White House has done lately. Tell me what Holder USAG has done lately.
It does not stop in Nevada, but is more prevalent in the South.
It has nothing to do with "race". They simply can not stand up and deliver.
the more this guy talks the stupider he sounds. he should quit while he's behind.
I have trolled these forums for several years and , in the end, people like Bundy always, ALWAYS, have a foundation in racial hatred and bigotry. Their brain waves are not based on "I'll do the best I can and see where it takes me" but, "I deserve more because I should own another person". And, I've revealed, uncovered, or forced to confess, over forty such alleged "liberty loving patriot" phonies. That is a SAD commentary on people proclaiming their love of country.
He is totally right. All one has to do is drive thru a black neighborhood. It is what we all are thinking.
Funny how GOP is always decrying freeloaders yet this slob is using public land to line his pockets and not paying for it. Sounds an awful lot like welfare. The bogus libertarians of America unite behind this kind of stuff all the time as long as it is white good ol' boys getting the hand-out its ok but if it is anyone else they should be cut-off. Uhhhh YES you are racist!!
and for any politician over the age of 40 who didnt know who the Bundy's really were and their part in american history with this whole land issue...shame on you...I'm black and a non polititian and I knew their story and their veiws on race...
And there it is. Just what the liberals wanted.. a way to turn this argument over the federal government over-reaching its authority into an argument about race or religion. His point being you can be a slave to a man or a slave to a group of men (the government). He should have just said that. The fact that he's a racists (or just a guy using out of date language) doesn't change the fact that what he has to say on the land rights and the feds over-reaching their authority was spot on. But watch as that talking point goes away.. his credibility is destroyed..and the feds end up getting what they wanted to begin with. He's just lucky they havent found a way to falsely charge him with a crime like some of the others the feds have gone after.
You cannot be a racist and a patriot at the same time.
Weelll....I don't know about that.
The Founding Fathers...slaves=property but certainly not people.....1/8 of a drop of Negroid blood....hmmm , built right into right into our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
All of these Conservatives who consider themselves VICTIMS !