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."
Altair Dafydd wrote: "He said what many of us on the right think and whisper among ourselves when in polite company."
This is why minorities keep voting against the Republican Party, and the Republican Party's minority outreach effort is futile. People not belonging to "polite company" know how Republicans in "polite company" think about them.
What is so troubling about his statement is that it articulates a belief so pervasively shared among conservatives.
Hmm. I kinda feel like this story was writen by someone against bundy. Sorry your views can't be taken as fact, just hearsay of an angry person. You must be an Anti-racist....yeah that is right you hate racists. Maybe they are who they are and have no choice, then what right do you have to call yourself better. If there are 100000 racists and we ignore them then they would probably affect nothing. But you pay such attention to every racist. Trying to pick them out of every situation. Little secret, nothing is known, there are no for sure's, you look in a microscope and the smaller you get the less things stay the same....meaning there is no continuity, no reason, no ryme, no should be and shouldn't be ....you just make that up so you can justify putting someone down. If racists hate other people then ignore them, if there are enough of them than it is a soceital view, but when you have less, then we can pick on them because we are tougher.
Have no fear, they are only backing away from his comments to appease the media. Don't doubt for a moment that they agree with them in private.
""Politicians denounce Bundy's racist remarks"
The same politicians who called law abiding US citizens domestic terrorist."
Newsflash: threatening to shoot anyone who tries to confiscate the cattle and showing up en masse with guns to block the lawful confiscation of said cattle is not "law-abiding."
The way Bundy made this statement sounds quite racist. The content of what he said is a truth that cannot be disputed.
"What right does behave to use land owned by the federal government for free? "
SO MUCH STUPID. The federal government does not do anything with this land! They only want it so they can give it to Harry Reid's relatives. Bundy's family has used it since the 1800s, the federal government has no business "owning" it.
for most businesses. costs for resources are in constant flux and suppliers come and go. it seems pretty fortunate that cheap land fees have existed for so long but there's no guarantees in real world. if he thinks the BLM is unconstitutional, it sounds like it'll be long court battle to have a court declare it so. but until then he has to follow the existing rules. puts the local law enforcement in an awkward position...being that rule of law is supposed to be what they enforce
Clearly Bundy's racist views that blacks are better off with jobs are grounds for him to drawn and quartered.
Amazing that no one realizes this man no matter how asinine he sounds is simply expressing himself, saying what he feels or what he thinks, I am by no means defending what he said, I am defending his right to say it. The Government has yet to take away our first amendment which is freedom of speech.
Bundy feeds from the public coffers more so than the people he's so critical of, but not for just thousands. Bundy owes millions. He doesnt think any rules apply to him. The more plain spoken he becomes, the more he'll show his true character.
Funny, I don't recall seeing this story of the rancher on the CNN site until now. It's been going on for weeks. Now that this comment is the focal point it is news? Guess so.
The Republican fools and their ally Fox news once again will give a landslide victory to the Dems... 8 years of Hillary. I have no doubt 8 more years of bliss is upon us...I love it!
While his words are reprehensible and disgusting, the true fact is that the problem is still states right to land and Fed govt overstepping its bounds and taking the land designated to the state. People may begin to look things like this more closely when the Feds begin to snatch your favorite piece of land because of an animal, a trickle of water, or some supposed "historical" value! The Feds charging people to use "OUR" land is bad enough, but to charge a person to use it so their livestock can simply eat scrub brush and grass that the feds never tend to is absurd!
"This is why minorities keep voting against the Republican Party, and the Republican Party's minority outreach effort is futile. People not belonging to "polite company" know how Republicans in "polite company" think about them."
And then spend the next four years trying to justify to themselves why AA's vote as they do. We've all heard the nonsense.
The Tea parties and GOP should really vet the people they hold up as heroes. Too many times they turned out to be racist kooks. It can only happen so many times before people start associating GOP and Tea party to racist kooks.
LOL, and the conservatives adopt yet another embarrassment for one of their national heroes.
Bundy is wrong now . Just like 0bama is wrong now . .
at least he didn't go to Obama's church with Rev. Wright ... he should have said he never heard anything anti-american and said he would never turn his back on his Rev. and then 2 weeks later say Rev Wright is no longer his Rev. White Guilt is going to ruin this country
"Government subsidy" ? This freeloaded has the nerve to accuse others of what he himself is trying to do by not paying to feed his cattle on federal property ? Hypocrisy !
MOER RACIST COMMENTS FROM BUNDY!
"When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered. They're sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper."
"We've got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work."
Oh wait, that was Michelle Obama.
You would almost feel sorry for Mr Bundy!
If Negroes were still "picking cotton", what would anyone do with it? No factories, no garment industry to speak of! That old coot
Is definitely living in another era! Maybe a
battery of test to determine the extent of his
The comments were not derogatory, they were merely a statement of observation.
Time to make him pay up or shut up and go to jail. I for one am much more opposed to him freeloading on "my" land, than I am trying to help someone who needs it to make a minimal living. It's time for real Americans to take their country back. It does not belong to malitia's, or redneck cowpolk. They would be considered terrorists and theives.
That's funny. Bundy has a problem with public subsidies, but no problem stealing public property. Lock this nut up and neuter his supporters....