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."
Problem is many think that wing-nut is doing something admirable. We are becoming the "Untied" States.
Those were not racist remarks. Mr Bundy is simply highlighting the fact that the USG coddles the folks in our society who generation after generation refuse to work. The average Section 8 household receives $950 per month in "nontaxable rent income", that's $11,400 anally, year after year, generation after generation. By comparison if you're a middle class worker who has fallen on hard times due to the failing US economy, and say you fall only $5,000 behind in your child support payments, you get placed on the National Drivers Registry (NDR) and you can't renew you drivers license in any state. Hence you risk loosing your job and your car. This is the modern predatory / discriminatory / tyrannical and corrupt government system we live under...
With the chance to tell the entire country his personal opinion of his own view of the world we all live in,
he has instead let us know the he has no consideration for anyone and is trying to deflect attention of his simmering hate for America rules we all must live with, onto the race of Black African Americans. Why not? A little prodding and support from the Republican Party and FOX News goes along way until it back fires. Why use that reference or circumstances for any reason? Why not the Latinos ? Asians? The W.Trailer Trash? Why not hate the Republicans who also voted into Law these same Laws to be upheld against all peoples who abuse them? The Republicans will back him up with more of their tired and typical American Heritage BS against any Democratic President who try's to support Laws enacted by and for ALL American People. Especially Laws enforced by the President of these United States ..... who also is an American of African Decent. Thats why? Seems to paint a picture the Republican party backs anyone who wants to throw S- at the POTUS but as soon as they get started, they realize that someone just farted on their party cake! Can't have that cake and eat it to,... except for Rush Limbaugh, he eats anything.
Why not just say " I'm a total tool " take it or leave it? He has lowered the desire for most to defend him in the court of public opinion. He has no class and no understanding of how to articulate his inner emotions so the common man listening to him will have any sympathy for him BUT ......... in the real world you MUST show respect to all living humans even if their brain cells are being fed by the standard " Me First" attitude of FREE entitlement that permeates the entire United States.
Even after many blacks have thrown in the proverbial towel and said the same thing ...... " OK, you will pay me one way or the other so here I'll sit and collect" and while we (most) white Americans as a whole still want to blame the problem that we directed onto the Black race, we still blame them for being Black and not more like us .......
Yes even blacks hate to be the featured subject to this TOOLS verbiage. The republicans love to hate the POTUS but they have to draw the line somewhere so they just giggle..... take 1 step back and after a week goes by it will be two steps forward to insult the POTUS and 100% of all blacks in general. Lets not forget their lack of desire to include the possible hardest working Labor force in these Un-United States. The Latinos deserve as much freedom and consideration as any REPUBLICAN living in these States. Good luck Bundy with kicking the same dog again with your backers of hate and personal self-righteous fools.
Next time he bites!
Bundy had the nerve to say what everyone else already knows, but is scared to say.
Tony, you should be telling that to all the liberals that say the raceism whenever someone speaks and it is not exactly what they want to hear.
This whole government is so crooked. Obama is just their scape goat. Every last one of them is all out for themselves. This is just stupid and this is just someone in politics trying to make gains for themselves. Ithas nnothing to do with race.
Glad to see the spirit of Archie Bunker is alive and well.. We need a modern day Norman Lear. We have learned little in 40 years
Mike wrote page 5:
This is why the Republicans are having a hard time convincing voters that they are not as many perceive them. They attract the likes of the Bundy's of this country and they simply cannot be trusted. At their core is racial divide and discourse for authority.
Actually, you've got it completely backwards. Conservatives were attracted to Bundy, en masse, despite the fact that he's the living embodiment of one of Paul Ryan's "takers." How the right wing can defend someone who has so blatantly broken the law is beyond understanding, and par for the course.
Just imagine. The entire conservative movement lining up behind some farmer who grew corn on government land for over 20 years, but never once paid a dime of rent. The entire conservative movement lining up behind an oil company that has been drilling and selling oil from public lands without having signed a lease, nor paid any rent. Can you imagine that?
Bundy is a crook. He's been stealing from the US taxpayers for years. And he has the gall to groan about welfare? Typical dumb GOP cowboy.
I never thought I'd EVER agree with Harry Reid but he's absolutely right on this issue.
How do you criticize others for government hand-outs while taking a 20+ year government hand-out yourself?
Not only is this guy a racist, but he's a hypocrite too!
Just an ignorant old man, saying stupid things like old folks sometimes do. But, Wow! Back to slavery as a better option
as a thought??? This guy has a 3rd grade education.
Bundy's outrageous statements only increase his stature among the 'patriots'. He's the very definition of the Tea Party, its icon.
No surprise here. This isn't about grabbing land, Its about greed.
A racist republican is so common
I guess Bundy has never in his life seen white people sitting around doing nothing. There are millions of them. Just the fact that he had to single out black people speaks volumes.
Well.... The Republican's have done it again, with their savvy establishment politician's immediately jumping to the defense of an anti-government "patriot" and hero – who turns out to be – SURPRISE! – just another racist, whacko bigot. Then the inevitable distancing dance starts, as they scurry for the exists as quickly as they possibly can... One has to wonder what these politicians really think when they are so quick to run to the defense of these so-called patriots just before these whackos become so enamored with the spotlight and their own self-importance that they inevitably verbalize what they really think, and what so many find reprehensible. What they say in hindsight, is unfortunately never so surprising, coming from the sources they do, and the perspectives they hold...
And as for the politicians that initially support them?
Birds of a feather, I think, only one squawks and the others fly away before being tarred with the same brush – which is why I stopped voting for the party 15 years ago – when they began boarding the crazy train.
If you look closely at the Lincoln memorial, you can see a tear in old Abe's eye...
Nothing this man expressed could be further from the any truth. I believe we would be better off if he was dead. This is the type of thinking that keeps us going backward. White men like himself dont take a look at his own culture and all the problems they have. The same sht he talking about in his qoutes is in every single race and community. If anyone wants to see what im talking about just watch the documentry: The wild and wonderful whites.
Nice picture. Not.
Gee, you think "God Bless America" is playing in the background?....
"One man, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack told a reporter the militia were considering putting "all the women" on the front lines." Wow!! These big bad men hiding behind women and their guns. True Patriots I tell you!!!
there are a lot of fair comments in this thread relative to media coverage and to the manipulation of nuts like this for political purposes. what is upsetting to me is that crazy's like this guy are being used to try to indicate the "norm". the reality is that there are over 300,000,000 people in this country and this guy's views probably align to about 1,000,000 of them. he's an anomaly and the GOP, FOX, the left media, the DNC, all using him to prove a point is stupid. how about focusing on how to fix and improve things for the 270,000,000 americans that work hard every day at their job, at school or in service to others? we're the majority. not goons like bundy.
Hilarious. Foxnews never painted him as a hero! wow. The sentiment on the 5 (Fox's most popular show ) was he should pay his taxes
The government plantation is a slightly less violent for of slavery. Either way your not going to have much of an opportunity to prosper
My relatives used to ranch the Butte Valley. Yeah, that guy. BLM gradually screwed them to the wall, so I totally agree with Bundy that BLM needs a good shaking out and beating. But that's as far as I go; you fight BLM with lawyers, not guns, and especially when you have made sure to put yourself in the wrong. Bundy's lucky he's not in prison already, and now that his tea-smoking buddies are fleeing from him, maybe he will be?
Some folks are not smart enough to quit talking. He won, but screwed himself again.
These are not racist comments. Mr. Bundy asks a good question. Are blacks better off today than during slavery? Maybe yes, maybe no. He is simply comparing the two lifestyles and wondering if blacks had more quality of a life back in the day. He has a First Amendment Right to ask this question or address this subject. A white racist is one who despises blacks, regardless of the content of their character.... So Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton, go have a talk with this man and address his concerns in a civil manner.