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."
It's really sad that no matter how far we have come as Americans, we hear from people like this hateful man that reminds us of what he really thinks about america as a whole ( like we really care). He has ripped off the government for years and now has to own up, he brings the Black race into his fight. He could have mention any culture of people, but he chose us. The government should throw this deadbeat, land grabbing, non-paying racist off the government property and into a cozy federal prison.
All this fuss when Bundy just said publicly what Conservatives, Republicans and Tea Party people say among each other. Why the surprise when the meeting of the racist took place in 2009 and 2011 Mitt Romney called personally for he help of KKK child molester Ted Nugent to get his fellow KKK, Nazi and White Supremacy groups to join in. At lease Bundy is lying to people like KKK Senator Rand Paul is doing as he panders for minority votes. Face it the American Racist are out and led by David/Charles Koch who were born and raised are racist and now using their money to brainwash school children and college students in racism and hate. Koch money is buying elected lawmakers. It was interesting to see how the old 50's plan works in 2014. Koch vets candidates for the Republican ticket like Rand Paul did and once elected announce their Tea Party lawmakers. Getting States to pass laws denying voting is common but the Koch bros include whites too.
No real shocker here. You mic up any 80 year old person and you're gonna here some pretty non-PC stuff. The liberals using this old man's bigoted comments to make their own bigoted comments about conservative people are the ones that should be ashamed.
And so Sean Hannity has succeeded in making Glenn Beck look and sound reasonable- oh my lord-the sky surely must be about to fall.
The government owns the land where the cattle are grazing. They should just open that same land to hunters and then declare "open season" on cows! Problem solved!
Hmmm, state's rights guy who rails against the federal government and doesn't pay his grazing fees and becomes a hero to local militias. Then it turns out he's a racist. Me thinks I see a pattern...
How come the people that whine about how those who get aid are then ruined by it, because you need to work to be worthy and a good human, want to completely eliminate the estate tax? So if you're a rich white man, not working makes you a better person than everyone else, but if you're poor you're trash?
Bundy has been stealing from the federal government for 20 years – and should have been thrown in jail a long time ago, following any one of the 4 court orders telling him to pay his grazing fees (which law-abiding, non-welfare ranchers do).
BTW, it was former President Ronald Reagan who signed Executive Order 12548 established grazing fee's on government land.
That's right, all you RWNJs: St. Reagan is the one you should be yelling at – along with this nimwit yahoo Bundy.
Whether you like it or not, GOP, this is the type of person who is linked to your party. When Fox News spew hate on the air, this is what you end up with. People who think hate is okay.
Those republicans that are now backing away from Bundy are doing so because he said publicly what he and most of them feel. They are all hypocrits and would like to say same thing when it comes to their views of blacks, but, because they (most in political office) would be criticized and jeopardize their public interests (run for public office), they keep it to themselves.
This should not be a shock but, hopefully, it will be a lesson to those with similar views that federal govt. is out to get you. Wait and get the facts straight and know what is going on before you jump into a defense of someone breaking a law just to gain a political point while risking peoples's lives.
Bundy's family has been living off of Federal Welfare ever since that ranch was started, the concept of use of Federal lands and the dirt cheap dirt was an act of welfare. Bundy is on welfare, how dare he accuse others as being on welfare?
Bundy is a domestic terrorist and threatening federal agents with weapons should earn him some time at Gittmo.
The government is trying to turn everyone against Clive so the Reids can complete their purchase land deal with BLM. Come on folks when are you going to wake up and see how the government has the news in their pockets and do you really believe what they print or diasplay on tv. Open your eyes folks!!!
How's that re-branding going?
I think they spelled his name wrong. It's Cloven H Bundy (H for hoof)
The Fox News Conservative right really know how to pick their base of people. Nice going Republicans, that is why you will never reside in the Whitehouse anytime soon. Thank God, we like to keep moving forward instead of backwards.
"Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist. But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite." Thank you Sen. Reid. I couldn't have said it better myself.
This guy Bundy and his wife made it clear they would put up an armed resistance to any federal officer who tried to enforce the law regarding grazing fees.
So the feds showed up with arms, anticipating a confrontation.
Then Bundy turns around and plays the victim card – and the dimwit card, too. He claims to not recognize the U.S. government, but rides around on a horse carrying the American flag!
This guy is a nutjob – heck, even Glenn Beck thinks so! You gotta pretty far out there to have Beck think you're weird!
Is that a picture of Brigham Young in his pocket?
for the love of god, journalists, please, start sourcing your comments and statements.
if you say "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"
–then source it or describe how it is you are making that assertion !
the lack of critical thinking in journalism today is appalling. it's so bad, hillary clinton and i now have something in common
I'm not surprised Bundy said these things. Just look at the company he keeps.
Ah, give the Democrats what they want and are obsessed with: race. They will play this card to garner votes from unsuspecting minorities under the guise of trying to help them. While Bundy is a racist himself the Dems will try to use this to their political advantage. The racists also include Obama, Holder, Sotomayer, Wright and HL Gates.
Anyone really surprised? Anyone surprised that they are willing to sacrifice hosts? I mean their womenfolk?
Randy P disagrees with bundy's remarks? Not as bad but he himself invoked that you don't have to serve "anyone" you don't want to if you have an establishment.
This guy doesn't believe in the Us government even though he has been stealing from US for 20 years and he carries the flag of the country he doesn't believe in.
Insanity from faux news invoked our founding fathers and George Washington, blah, blah, and it took the Daily Show, once again, to remind him of the Whiskey Rebellion and how Washington put down the insurgents.
Lots of talk with no clue of the real history of the US.
Whatever happens don't hurt the cows nor the horses.
So we have a free loader living off government subsidies (and holding on to them with a gun in hand) complaining about black people being hurt by their getting subsidies from government. Doesn't he feel the terrible hurt done to him by the free loading he has been allowed to do for decades. Doesn't he understand how this has made him dependent on government and that it would be so much better for him to just get off the dole?
Cliven – The laundry called. Your sheets and hood are ready...