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."
YAWN... As usual... the lefties and liberals play the race card when their out of control government looks bad. But Demorcats can make racist comments and it is a forgiveable misspeak.
...and in other news up is down and down is up.
Ever considered a job at one of the "1984" Ministries.?
You would be perfect.
anyone else find it ironic that a man making racist comments about someone living off the federal government, essentially makes his living off free land owned by the government? at least man up and buy your own land.
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."
Does 1 wrong POV cancel out 1 right POV? He may be racist, but it doesn't necessarily mean that he is wrong about standing up for his rights.
Dude is wrong. Government way overreacted. There is no doubt that this is wrong on all sides. He might be a racist, too. In classic Rudy fashion though, who made the following comment?
“He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately. He was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination," they write.
So who made those comments?"
Classic enabler behavior. Reid promptly and profusely apologized and called Obama etc. and the MSM and GOP/Teatrolls jumped all over him when he said it and he immediately admitted it was wrong and disavowed what he said. Bundy's not about to do any of that and the conservative media and propaganda machine is busy making excuses for him and being apologists and ENABLERS. Everything from "well, he's right and the truth hurts" to "his underlying point is correct and you just have to excuse him for being an old man who has no media training using the language of his generation." The comparison to Reid is ridiculous and broken and your immediate effort to find some way of creating a false equivalence here is ENABLER behavior.
LOL. Ha Ha Ha! Keep talking Cliven!
@Donna.... Actually Bundy made it racial when he decided to attack a race of people. This is why real science needs to be taught in school so that people realize that ALL Homo sapiens originated in Africa. One day perhaps we can begin to address the real problems in our society as opposed to insignificant differences such as skin color or eye shape.
Then again I guess small minded people focus on small minded topics.
Has anyone seen the land he is grazing? A cow has to walk miles to find even a little forage. They pick the land clean of anything edible. Cattle grazing in Nevada is an environmental disaster. The government should simply cancel his leases and shoot any cattle that are left on the land after an actual drop-dead date.
Since when does one get to greet law enforcement with guns and still get to walk free? If that had been in the "Government Housing" area, they would have shot and killed the black guy without thinking twice. Double standard much?
It's perfectly ok for you guys on the right to THINK these things. This guy just made the mistake of saying them out loud. At least you can say one thing for him – he's not trying to hide what he thinks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid – Nevada's senior senator – last week blasted Bundy's supporters as "domestic terrorists," – Sure, Mr. Reid, I imagine the British Army first thought of our founding citizens as "domestic terrorists". However, with our those "domestic terrorists" you, sir, wouldn't have a job – or a soap box. Way to use buzz words to paint the picture the way you want the sheep to see it.
says Mr. Republican/Tea Pary Man...err, ahhh, welll, I think ah, let's see....yeah I guess I was for Bundy before I was against him...
Why doesn't CNN report on Harry Reid and the Chinese wanting to use that land for a wind farm….
Because it isn't true, and was even debunked by faux newz.
“He was wowed by Obama's oratorical....."
So who made those comments?"
Classic deflection. Reid promptly and profusely apologized and called Obama etc. and the MSM and GOP/Teatrolls jumped all over him when he said it and he immediately admitted it was wrong and disavowed what he said. Bundy's not about to do any of that and the conservative media propaganda machine is busy making excuses for him and being apologists and ENABLERS. Everything from "well, he's right and the truth hurts...tough love" to "the outrage is just liberals playing the race card" to "his underlying point is correct and you just have to excuse him for being an old man who has no media training using the language of his generation." The comparison to Reid is ridiculous and broken and your immediate effort to find some way of creating a false equivalence here is ENABLER behavior. Guess who else almost instantaneously started throwing around references to Reid as a means of deflection? Guess.
C. Bundy is living off the taxpayers money by Not PAYING for the use by his cattle for more than than Twenty YEARS, think of what would have happened to us if we owe the GOVERMENT $1000,000 ??????????????????????
Another racist who represents the majority of republicans views. They enjoy government welfare on their terms, then can't hide their racism as they accuse others of living off of "the government".
Harry Reid started this whole fiasco. He's already promised that land to some green project he has up his sleeve. Reid, Pelosi, Obama ...... they all gotta go. This administration is the worst it's ever been. And yea, I do miss George Bush.
Obviuosly stupid comments but the liberals have been making bigoted comments about this guy from day one as well. Pretty much all the liberal comments here make sweeping and bigoted generalizations about conservatives. My position on this was that he should pay his fees but the gov't should stop trying to force him off the grazing lands. They're obviuosly trying to run him out of business because some well connected individual wants his land dirt cheap. Why else would such a powerful senator as Harry Reid be involved unless a favor was being called in. All americans should be concerned about this.
Got to love it. Hannity et al. hitched their wagon to this clown so now they get to wear it. I mean, when you look crazy next to Glenn Beck you just are crazy – no dispute. Don't get me wrong, the left hitches their wagons to a lot of nut jobs and FOX always make them eat it so turnabout is fair play. BOTH sides need to stop sacrificing all principals just to stick it to the other side which is essentially what is happening in the US right now and is leading to more and more polarization. EVERYONE needs to find a way to meet somewhere closer to the "middle", and soon.
Is anyone really surprised at this jerk? The only thing that surprised me about this incident is that he used the word "Negro" when we all know which word he was truly thinking.
@Sniffit, what Bundy has said is reprehensible. What I find amusing is how you assign all of the race issues to the Republicans. Being a student of political history, perhaps you would like to explain Democratic lion Sen. Robert Byrd's history of racism and how that was conveniently swept under the rug by the MSM and the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, racism is alive and well in both parties. Your attempt to place all of such racism solely with the Republicans is disingenuous and counterproductive. It appears that you are more concerned with stirring the pot for political points than with correcting injustices.
And yet, the left doesn't run from Farrakhan, and I don't see the right harping on it daily. Same can be said for Sharpton. Heck the lefty channel gave him his own show. I challenge someone to google the Morton Downey jr. Show with Al as a guest, and tell me what he said over and over again about whites is not as bad as what Bundy said.
If fox gives Bundy his own show, will dems get mad, or just excuse it like they did good ole Albert?
White folks have been playing the damn race card for so damn long they would not know the difference between a race card and an ordinary card, i dont give a damn if they are republicans, democrats, communists, socialists, tea partyers, or what the hell ever, this is the game they love to play now. Its either the race card or race baiting, they cant seem to make up their damn minds. There is only supposed to be one race, the human race, but i believe it was white anthropologists who made the different racial distinctions, and quite naturally they wanted to be top dog, so they came up with the bright idea of the more intelligent or master race, nothing but bs if u asked me
I don't think you could be more wrong there Sniffit. Patriots, be they independents, republicans, tea partiers or democrats (if you can imagine democrats being patriots) were in support of Bundy's position solely from the standpoint of the way the BLM, etc. came on so unnecessarily strong against this rancher. His being a racist is all new to everyone who supported him. I guarantee you that if anyone knew of his position on race, he wouldn't have seen nearly the amount of support that he's seen up until now. It's a new ballgame now, because no one can support his position on race. Go back under your rock & have another batch of kool-aid!
Does this really suprise anyone? ANYONE???
"doesn't necessarily mean that he is wrong about standing up for his rights."
What rights? What right does behave to use land owned by the federal government for free? What right does he have to not pay market rates for use of grazing land just like the most of the ranchers do? What right does he have to disobey duly enacted laws and regulations, or to simply ignore court orders and judgments against him after he was afforded the due process to present his own case? Hmmm? What right? Because he a white Rights are DEFINED and DEFENDED by the very government he pretends doesn't exist and in the social contract codified in that government. He just thinks the social contract doesn't apply to him.