April 24th, 2014
12:00 PM ET
5 months ago

Politicians denounce Bundy's racist remarks

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.

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."

Another Fox News host, Greta Van Susteren, wrote on her blog Thursday morning that she condemns Bundy's comments.

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."

 


Filed under: Dean Heller • Nevada • Rand Paul
soundoff (1,537 Responses)
  1. HenryMiller

    "Every Republican elected official who risked inciting violence..."

    Actually, it was the federal government that "risked inciting violence."

    April 24, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  2. skdowd

    Well, it is Fox News. What do you expect?

    April 24, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  3. Jeff

    The new darling of the Republican party is a racist nut job. Why would anyone be surprised?

    April 24, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  4. Ken

    Steve Handley – if you like your policy you can keep your policy, if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. Only difference here is this story is about an old ignorant country boy that happens to vote Republican. What's the POTUS' excuse for lying to the entire nation? I'm pretty sure the Democratic party has just as many reprehensible human beings that belong to it as the Republican party has that belongs to it.

    April 24, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  5. Bryan R

    This guy should be put in jail and kept there for the rest of his life, along with all the other idiots that were threatening the law enforcement staff.

    April 24, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  6. underwaterops

    '"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.'
    ---------–
    Wow. Isn't that the approach the Muslim men protecting the warlord in Somalia used when attacking the team sent to take him (Blackhawk Down incident)? They hid behind women and children, firing between their legs at US troops sent to take this man for firing on aid workers bringing food to the starving people of Somalia. They did this because they said they knew US troops wouldn't fire on women and children.
    .
    So, essentially, these supporters of Bundy are using the same tactics against the US government as Muslim warfighters? And Fox and the Teaparty are finding that commendable?
    .
    Interesting.

    April 24, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  7. christian

    he makes me feel ashamed to be white

    April 24, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  8. Tony

    True Conservatives are not racists, we believe every human being should have the opportunities to succeed. We just don't agree with Liberals on the role of government in that quest. Don't paint us with such a broad brush. I couldn't read the entire article, because his ignorant quote made me sick. I cannot believe anybody thinks this way after all these decades. What an "ugly" human being. DISGUSTING!!!

    April 24, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  9. Skalamoosh

    I can't believe how people are using this to say that all conservatives are racist- even using it to say a large portion of conservatives are racist- Are you kidding me? I'm not ignorant- there are racist people out there, but they exist in both conservative and liberal camps. Don't use this idiot to throw rocks in a glass house.

    April 24, 2014 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  10. Name

    TYPICAL conservative and that is the God's honest truth. This is how Rand Paul feels as well although he will never admit it. We are still living in the dark ages and as intelligent human's we should know better by now. How disgusting......

    April 24, 2014 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  11. Namejimmy jim

    Freedom of speech?! This man has the right to think and say what he wants no matter how "racist" one thinks it is. But its ok to lump all white people or republicans into one hate mongering group. I wonder how black republicans feel about that.

    April 24, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  12. Dan

    Let's be frank, here. If you truly want to test this theory that land owned by the Federal government, and can be used for private use, for free, try to pitch a tent and live at any of the National Parks or Monuments and see how quickly you get kicked out. Such is the case for letting your cattle graze on this land. The Federally owned land is for everyone's enjoyment, in the case that it doesn't cross the line to private use.

    April 24, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  13. Rain

    He certainly didn't express himself well, but I understand what he's saying. He says the American government has continued to suppress and enslave African Americans by leaving them with poor health and education and defendant on welfare. Welfare is a huge business that makes a lot of business people very wealthy! The government had always made sure minorities and poor people of all races remain their slaves.

    April 24, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  14. Agree with him

    I agree with him 100%, they need to do something about them blacks!

    April 24, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  15. Arthur in the Garden!

    Another spoiled white billionaire!

    April 24, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  16. Ima wright

    There are racists of all colors. Some get roasted by the media, while others don't. Depends on which side they are on.

    April 24, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  17. robert constant

    Not all Republicans are racist?" I am NOT from Missouri, but that is a statement you are going to have to "Show me."

    April 24, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  18. rs

    bdog

    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.
    _____________________
    A lie told to you by the same radical, foreign-owned media outlet that thinks Bundy is a hero. This story is completely untrue!

    April 24, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  19. rufus

    It was a poor way of saying things but the sad truth is that liberals in faovr of the welfare state have put a lot of people (black and white) on the government plantation and these people have the illusion of freedom (hey, I have an Obamaphone!) but in fact are dependent on government just as slaves were dependent on their masters. The truth is not reprehensible. To treat this as puely a black issue unfortunately gave liberals a means to play the race card and obscure the truth in what Bundy was saying.

    April 24, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  20. Not Too Hard To Understand

    Sorry, GOTP. This guy's all yours.

    April 24, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Tom wrote on page 22:

    Notice how the cowardly feds do not ever have a confrontation with the mexican cartells who operate in our national parks. Now that is racist.
    ---------------------
    If you know where they are, they why don't you and a few regiments of "good guys with guns" go in there and smoke 'em out?

    April 24, 2014 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  22. wfbaberfrankinsd

    How long is it going to take Republicans to learn that when you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas?

    April 24, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  23. BUD

    The republicans are running for cover.LOL

    April 24, 2014 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  24. David Sussman

    Wow, what a shocker! The welfare taker/moocher rancher is racist!

    Remember, the last time we fanned the flames of the wacko right, it culminated in the OKC bombing. The GOP needs to not just distance itself from Bundy; its members should have actively been criticizing him from the start.

    April 24, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  25. Read

    The Republican Party killed itself...
    Playing to this wont change anything.

    Signed
    Never a Republican again

    April 24, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
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