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."
"The Nevada Democrat had already been on the attack against Bundy before his racial comments." He was attacking Bundy because he wants to use the land for a wind farm. That's why this whole thing started. Reid and all you other Demoncrats are making yourselves rich off of global fear mongruling! Bundy does sound like a racist, but when you have a President like Obama who is no Jackie Robinson and thinks there are 57 states in the Union he does his race a disservice!
her goes CNN distorting comments!!!!
Bundy bought his ranch in 1948 so how can he have grazing rights since 1880?
I do not agree with what Bundy said. Iam also a Tea Party supporter. I understand what he is getting at which should not be pointed at one specific race as many races are on the public dole. The point the guy was making is anyone really free when stuck on government subsidies minus of course those that have actually worked for it and are now on social security. He makes a valid point but also detracts from the actual issue by adding only blacks to it. I do not think his comments are racist I just do not believe they are appropriate or well thought out. If he is a racist then he would hate blacks or any other race for that matter. For people to throw at racist asthe liberals do is pretty much a way to shut people down and ignore the actual subject which needs to be discussed. For example liberals want to champion how he lost in court which is true. How many times have liberals lost in court but to continue to fight through protests or dscussing changing law ? Many more then I can count. This fight againts BLM is no different. This is how we Americans stop abussive government power regardless of who is in power. Both parties over step there bounds and we as Americans are to take note of this and put a stop to it.
Bundy claims not to acknowledge the existence of the United State of America, yet he struts on a white horse (perhaps he feels he is Jesus coming down from heaven) with an American flag flowing gloriously around him. This seems schizophrenic. He attracts gun toting delusions-of-grandeur types hoping to blast it out in self-delusional Alamo, but this time they want to use women as shields. Fortunately most of us folks that like guns are not that narrow headed or thug-like. And for those conservatives that see Bundy’s racist statement as simply his empathy of wanting black folk to have jobs and not sitting, re-read his comments. He clearly views black folks as cotton-pickers with no more ability. Conservatives never acknowledge the forces of poverty (and racism) that is placed upon people that make it difficult to impossible to navigate survival. When it comes to poverty, regardless of race, providing substance that only keeps one from starving indeed does nothing but keep people from starving. To be able to grow into self-determined citizenry requires more, like application of rules of law (not to mean to beat your citizenry to submission, but deal with drug business as an example. Criminals easily victimize the poor), good education and more. Yet the Bundy types of this world see the solution to a real problem by not providing the American soil the nourishment to allow people to grow well, but to cut the last bit of resource they have. No law enforcement, rather private prisons sucking tax dollars, no education, rather private charter schools sucking tax dollars, no more shelter, no more food. That will teach them, right Bundy boys?
Its just coincidence that the gop keeps flocking to the most extreme rscists in our country, Ted nugent, and now this crook, I hate to think of the vitriol that we would hear from them if he were a Democrat, they fail to see their own hypocracy, no surprise there. A Democrat refuses to pay the government, he's a loser looking for a handout, since he's a Republican, he's an honest hard working guy being dumped on by the overreaching government, how mature.
So, because you think he's a racist, his cattle should be confiscated ?
I do not agree with what Bundy said. Iam also a Tea Party supporter. I understand what he is getting at which should not be pointed at one specific race as many races are on the public dole. The point the man was making is anyone really free when people are on government subsidies minus of course those that have actually worked for it now on social security. He makes a valid point but also detracts from the actual issue by adding only blacks to it. I do not think his comments are racist I just do not believe they are appropriate or well thought out. If he is a racist then he would hate blacks or any other race for that matter. For people to throw out he is a racist as the liberals do is pretty much a way to shut people down and ignore the actual subject which needs to be discussed. For example liberals want to champion how he lost in court which is true. How many times have liberals lost in court but to continue to fight through protests or dscussing changing law ? Many more then I can count. This fight againts BLM is no different. This is how we Americans stop abussive government power regardless of who is in power. Both parties over step there bounds and we as Americans are to take note of this and put a stop to it.
Bunty is a loud mouth. He lives in the past. Libersals are not different except for loud mouth. Anyway they got fodder, till 2014 election.
Being from Arizona, I speak cowboy. He was asking why we are racist and not giving black people a chance in the work force.
Now he's really a republican hero. The klan all votes republican for a reason.
yeah, I don't understand what was not correct about what bundy said? it's the truth.
Racism is something Democrats accuse the opposition when they have nothing left. Define racism then let's talk!
Gop and Foxnews need to own their poster boy. For all those monorities out there (latinos, blacks, asians) thinking about voting GOP, remember this is who they are.
I'm.proud to proclaim, I simply don't have what it takes to be a Republican, I work 50 hours a week and ask for nothing.
The funny thing is this farmer, who I am positive, collects some form of federal subsidies for raising live stock he might not sell during the fiscal year. I'm sure he gets food stamps and farmers monetary relief, similar to the people he accuses of receiving, to compensate for the lack of annual profit. Moreover, he knows he is not going to get rich from raising steers, not against the corporations. So he continues the delusional efforts to run a his non-profit of farm to prove he is a strong white man and he is better than everyone else. I find myself am often entertained to see another poor white people ridicule other poor people of different races for not trying hard enough. He is just another bottom-feeder talking out the side of his mouth.
still doesn't take away from what is really going on here. I could care less if this man is a racist. That is opinion and thats his problem. But aside from all of that, this is a serious government cover up. Harry Reid's son is head of the Energy commission and is trying to get the land cleared so it can be sold to a Chinese solar company to line someone else's pockets. They are basically pushing him out of his house and home. Why else would the govt spend close to 1 mill on contractor with the BLM to kill this mans cattle and who knows what else.
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.
Do you think the feds would have stand down if he was black and had a couple of panthers with guns?
Can't wait to see Sheldon Adelson,Rupert Mourdoch,Rove,Grover Norquist and the GOP stuff Jeb Bush down their throats Mitt the twit style. THAT will be fun.
Bet Mr. Bundy's great ancestors were land grabbers......welfare rancher is what he is.
I agree with the man, I saw the un-edited version of the video. He wasn't trying to be racist at all, he spoke facts. Todays black people living in urban areas are nothing but thugs (most of them). Most people on welfare are black, most people in prison are black, most people involved in gang shootings are black, Most robberies are from black men.
I am an African American, and I am ashamed to be so. I wish this country would accept facts and work on solutions, not just give out free handouts and hope all will be good.
He speaks for all Republicans.
The man can be as racist as he wants. Who cares? Why are liberals so dead-set on being upset with what a man thinks in his mind? Did he commit a hate crime? Expressing his racist thoughts about black people is not a crime, and thinking those things is not a crime either. Is it generally an accepted point of view? No. But who cares? Does anyone stop and think: "Why do I care so much about what this man believes or thinks, and why am I so focused on making sure he believes and thinks like I do."
The blacks never had it so good like they do today. Yet they still complain and demand more and more while I work my butt off to make ends meet. This country is going down the toilet...fast.
he's right..truth hurts lowlives