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."
So the rancher receives "land welfare" and when the government wants to cut off his welfare the republican pundits call it government overreach. Real conservatives see Bundy for what he is, a MOOCHER.
Where have all the real conservative gone?
Toltec-the US won a war, and in 1848, the area of Nevada because US land.
Some people just don't know when to keep their dang mouth shut.
Wait, so an anti-government, gun loving, tax cheating, tea party fanatic is also racist? Color me shocked.
This guy should be in the slammer. Period.
Just give me the first while it's still around, please?
This millionaire welfare rancher was a right wing hero. Now Republicans can't run away from him fast enough.
I don't think anybody who is not a right wing fringe person is surprised at the views expressed by Clive Bundy. We may not want to talk about it, but there is a large swathe of the republican party that is white, older, religious, and racist. Every now and again the mask accidentally falls off one of these bigots when they think they are in a friendly environment and they have a microphone in front of their mouth and a recording device. So all the Fox News people and tea baggers who love this guy now have to run away from him as fast as they can. But we heard them endorse him and his illegal actions. We remember. You dance with the devil and he's gonna git ya!
I know democrats are going to jump on this and that is ok, we need to have this dialog in this country for once and for all. Democrats created these horrible debilitating government services, for what ever reason. I have my opinion, it was since they could no longer own them physically as they did in the south before the civil war, they tried for decades to keep them in line using the KKK, but eventually that was not practical, so they created welfare, then food stamps, then HUD, created generational slavery. Ask anyone of those people and they will tell you they want their kids to do better than to be stuck in those programs........but some cannot get out, or just plain ole figure out how to game it. Mr. Bundy sees it without the rose colored sunglasses the democrats want to force everyone to wear!
I must say he kinda has a point, only its not just otis as the slaves anymore, we are all slaves.... and WE put ourseleves in this posistion, its up to ourselves to take us out.....
-collect money, and kick his butts off. Simple.
Media taking it out of context.. hes saying you cant trust the Federal Government.. the slaves were freed then the Government put the blacks into a system that was worse than slavery in some ways.. hes not saying black people should be slaves. Hes saying the government just re-enslaved them... I kind of agree to a certain extent.
Oh come on. these politicians knew full well what Bundy was. He is a Mormon fundamentalist who openly supports polygamy and believes black folks are black because of sin Lets see if for once the electrote remembers this at election day.
So...a rancher from BFE Nevada is racist and people are surprised by this? Do you city people live in a bubble? Oh, right, you do...the city.
And...is he wrong? I believe his clumsily made point was, even if he didn't realize it, is that many, many black people continue to be totally disenfranchised and it is a cause for a lot of our society's ills.
CNN thinks they can intimidate Republicans by saying we are all racist if we support Bundy. No such luck. Your organization fires me up to want to donate money and campaign for Republicans. We true Republicans know that we are not racist. We also know that is was Democrats who opposed the freeing of the slaves. CNN=Cinton News Network. You guys are in the Dems pocket big time. So we know that most your stories are untruthful and extremely biased.
I am liking this Rancher more every day!
What I think is interesting is that another infamous Bundy is Ted. Or that the Al Bundy family from 'Married With Children' exemplifies his rantings, even though the family was white and the show was broadcast on Fox.
Are Ted Bundy and Cliven Bundy relatives?
Thank Gawd.....I thought it was just me connecting those dots vis-a-vis the last name Bundy.
What is up with that?
On a serious note.....
I read the NYT article where these excerpts came from.
I refuse to give this man any serious thought or consideration.
The only use this type of person is to me is for comic relief.
Everything that he represents and those that are pushing him to the forefront is no longer America's dirty little secret.
We all know the Clive Bundy's of this land, the political Party that stands behind him, and the other yahoos that stand next to him making sure that their women and children are standing in front of course.
We ALL know. The extremists in this country have made certain since January 20th, 2009 that we ALL know.
The real Republicans that are left in this country know, Democrats know, and everyone in between.
The only ignorant, and clueless doofus pawn in the dark is....Clive Bundy.
Don't let useless tools like Clive Bundy make you hate your fellow man...no matter what their color or poltical orientation. That's just giving him ( or anyone like him) wayyyyy too much power.
Stop the hate.
That didn't take long for Republicans to disown this clown. They are all behind him a week ago, not anymore! (Well, maybe Nugent)
I don't understand. When this guy takes his cattle to market a creditor (in the case the government) can put a lien on the proceeds so that the buyer would have to pay the government first for the fees/back taxes.
Anyway, open mouth, insert foot.
People are missing the point if they are concerned about the land. This is just one of the few honest republicans who dare speak his mind. If the rest of them would do the same, I bet it would sound like this:
1. The only reason they hate Obama is because he is black.
2. Real Americans are only white.
3. Whites are superior and therefore are the onlyones who shall benefit from having a government governed by other supremacists.
4. only republicans are allowed to take money from the government through wars, tax breaks and tax loopholes.
5. everyone else is just a servant or a visitor, and therefore not American.
6. You are conservative as long as you do not get caught.
7. Oh and Jesus saves.
NOBODY is surprised to hear this. Birds of a feather...
Which is why it made no sense that FOX-bots were screaming at CNN for not giving this Bundy fool the respect FOX was giving him.
Apparently now they would rather CNN not mention the name Clive Bundy.
My comments are to truthful to be published. Have some guts and publish them.
The comments reveal that he's racist. What does that have to do with the government taking his land?
And Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are NOT racists!!!!! LOL