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. Toltec1

    Who pwned this land before the US? Was it just an empty area, or were there some indians living there? Did our government take this land from the indigenous peoples like much of the west? If so, how did the Bundy clan feel about acquiring the land in this way? It would be ironic if the Bundy family didn't mind the government taking the indian land so they could purchase and use it, but isn't quite as thrilled about the government taking it back or charging grazing rights fees. Confusing. Peace

    April 24, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  2. pudden Tane

    The truth really makes people mad. All this guy is doing is telling the stone cold truth.

    April 24, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    I think Hannity is taking the day off today?

    April 24, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  4. theemptyone1

    Bundy has been bumming off the government just like the people he alleges do in his example. I'll cut him a little slack however, for not being up on PC Speak. He could've gotten his idea out without such a painful and sure-to-provide-a-wide-open-opportunity-for-his-ememies. Chalk it up to being an old guy who's lived in the desert and out of touch for years. However, missing the comparison between himself and his example of people bumming off the government is his intellectual failing.

    April 24, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  5. dog1

    "... – 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." Bundy needs to learn English. "they didn't have nothing to do" is a double negative that implies the opposite. It implies that they had plenty to do. I think what he means is that they didn't have "anything" to do. If this is a reflection of Bundy's education then it's understandable how he doesn't understand the capacity of the laws of the Taylor Grazing Act, and has convinced himself that his rights to said lands have been infringed upon. It's amazing how many people have blindly followed him like sheep! Somehow he's convinced the masses (with the help of certain cable news networks) that this is a case of government overreach and abuse of government power when in fact it is simply a case of a selfish old man not wanting to pay his grazing fees like thousands of his fellow ranchers do! Why should he be exempt??? Oh and never mind that there was a period of time before he says his family "claimed" the land when it was Native American land. Was it yours before it was theirs Mr. Bundy? Or can you just ignore that part of history and put them in the category of "didn't have nothing to do!!!"

    April 24, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  6. Jeff Rogers

    So, let me get this clear in my mind: a VA employee is prosecuted for an "illegal" .89cent soda refill while a wealthy Republican rancher is able to stare down the US government over $1million in fines. Is that right? Does anybody wonder why there is so little faith in government?

    April 24, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  7. sarge325

    "Fox News painted Bundy as a hero." Really? I heard several Fox News commentators weigh in on Bundy's argument with the feds. Hannity supported him. Everyone else said he was wrong. A few sympathized with his plight against an overreaching government, but all (except Hannity) emphasized that he was legally in the wrong.

    April 24, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  8. cobra

    What do you know, Bundy nailed it!!

    April 24, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  9. Ryan Collins

    Him being wrong about race doesn't make him wrong about standing up to the BLM. Lots of heroic actions have been done by bigots. Heck, 90% of the union army were bigots, and they freed the slaves.

    April 24, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  10. Tom in Millstadt

    Rockowirtz

    What kind of things were slaves "out doing"as a family? What kind of "family life" did slaves really have? Where did Bundy get his history books?

    **********************************************************************************************************************************************

    From Ted Nugent and Sean Hannity

    April 24, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  11. Peteis

    He's like Robin Hood, stealing from rich and....keeping it for himself? Wait isn't that just a thief?

    Just a heck of a role-model to hitch your horse to Hannity.

    April 24, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  12. sftommy

    Yeah Bundy, justify you're stealing from the Feds at gunpoint by pointing your finger at little black kids getting food legally.

    Do you fee like a man now Clive?. Should be ashamed of yourself, as you're not we all pray you'll get there with God's help.

    April 24, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  13. mudbug

    What was so racist??
    He was stating a fact!!!

    April 24, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  14. Jeff

    This guy needs to quit while he's ahead!

    April 24, 2014 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  15. sedrf

    Bundy is a true Republican.

    April 24, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  16. shehar39

    Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the Gov take care of him, better take a closer look at the American Indian- Henry Ford

    April 24, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  17. Tony

    Conservatives, stop saying bad things about other races. You will be surprised– other people will stop calling you racists. Just remember, 70% of people on welfare are white.

    April 24, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  18. William Miller

    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."
    I think it's safe to say that when even Glenn Beck is "frightened" of things right-wing extremists have been saying, that is a notable accomplishment on their part.

    April 24, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  19. Bhawk1

    One question I have never seen asked of this guy: Would he hire a black man or woman. Cons in the country never seem to understand that people segregated away from a mainstream society will form a society with norms and values of their own. Cons have been the segregationist, the refuse to let blacks into the main stream of society, they are the ones who refused them jobs, education, and simple rights. They forced the development of a society thats somewhat different and the Cons don't like the society the blacks created. The attack people as lazy but will not give them jobs. Attack the people as less intelligent but deny them education. The cons of this country are creating more and more people will to look at and follow systems that are dedicated to communism and even more radical systems. Cons need to remember "there is no free lunch" and if you want all the oppertuninties and the wealth you will have to pay for it at some time–maybe with your life.

    April 24, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  20. Jayakumar

    So you say he is a republican.. now why am I not surprised?

    April 24, 2014 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  21. Mike Hunt

    What exactly was racist about what he said? On the bright side, at least now other non-"right wing" media sites are now reporting on the events.

    April 24, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  22. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    "One man, former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack told a reporter the militia were considering putting "all the women" on the front lines" and he thinks that the Feds would be blamed if the women got hurt? Definitely thinks like a criminal, doesn't he?

    April 24, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  23. skytag

    I don't think for a moment that all Republicans are racist, but they it's disingenuous for them to act like allegations of being racist have no basis when they have people in their party who clearly are racist.

    April 24, 2014 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    FUN FACTS: The C O N S T I T U T I O N that RWNJs like Bundy profess to love was formed, precisely and specifically, to create a power to do what they hate: collect taxes, in service of a big national debt, by force if necessary. (Check out the Whiskey Rebellion.)

    It all came about in direct response to the Shaysite resistance in western Massachusetts. Then, in 1794, George Washington (Founding Father extraordinaire) exercised those new powers with a vengeance in western Pennsylvania.

    And you know what? Washington would to the same today, at the Bundy Ranch. Why? Because Bundy is refusing to pay the fees he owes the federal government.

    If you can't see what a nitwit this Bundy and his supporters are, then you're blind.

    April 24, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  25. reader10

    The eleventh commandment:" Thou shall not tell the truth".
    You can take the fifth.

    April 24, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
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