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."
Coordinated, Concerted, Timed, Strategic, Corporate-State ***PROPAGANDA-ALERT***
The State must damage the man's image in order to get away with violating his rights with physical violence.
This is PR 101; entry level stuff. It's not very clever – definitely not respectable, but often works.
We'll have to see if The People have really woken up yet to the Corporate-State (dis)information control; PROPAGANDA.
Why isn't A & E giving him a reality show like the " Ducksters " have....another Tea Party favorite....or better yet ...put him On Duck Dynasty.....boost those ratings .....move that merchandise .......surely there is some network that would sell out for the chance.....I think Fox is the perfect choice......
When rural whites are out of work its Obama's fault for not fixing the economy or creating jobs. However when blacks are out of work they are lazy. Being a conservative does not automatically make someone racist, however they do seem to attract them.
Only the rich should get government handouts and tax breaks
signed: Mrs. Romney's Dancing Horse
Bundy had the nerve to say what everyone else already knows, but is scared to say.================= I totally agree Scott. Everyone on this board agrees. Just drive thru a black neighborhood. Able working males are slobbering on 40 oz bottles with a bunch of knocked up females sitting with them while all plotting on who to rob.
He's also the worst kind of welfare moocher by using the public's land without paying what he owes. How dare he call anyone a moocher.
All is said was that govt. has held the black man down. He's correct, but they're too blinded to see it.
How many black men or women do you think Bundy, or any member of his makeshift posse, has hired over the years? You're wrong because you're unable to see the issue from any perspective except for your own personsl view. You don't know how to walk a mile in another man's shoes. It's human nature to judge others from our own personal life's experience and opinions, but it is also dead wrong to do so.
I love it. Just showing how ignorant white people are. Will be praying for all your haters. But God will say to you depart from me you workers of hate. You say you love me with your mouth but your heart is far from me.
Would someone please explain to racists that slavery isn't the same as employment
This race issue is a smoke screen hiding the real issue of this case. Bundy owes the government money for grazing his cattle on public lands. Either make him pay up thru the courts or put him in jail for theft from the government and the people of the USA. If it was the IRS instead of the Bureau of Land Management, he would not have had any support as everyone must pay their taxes. Not everyone gets to mooch off public lands.
Are we surprised – Republicans....seek out Jon Stewart and get educated.
I never thought I'd say this, but I have to agree with Glenn Beck. Trying to paint this as a political maneuver comes off as insultingly embarassing, both for Republicans who supported him, and for the Senate Majority Leader who tries to villianize him, and the latter makes me embarrassed to be behind the Democratic Party.
Mr. Reid, this is about land ownership, not about political posturing. It's a complicated issue, and by boiling it down to politics, you demean your own argument and embarrass your own party.
"Meanwhile...... When are we going to go in there and round up them there cows and have us a big 'ole fashion BBQ?"
YEAH! I want mah babyback babyback babyback....
Well well well....
I guess Bundy really lost allot of support when the GOP found out he was really a Good Old Boy racist who just dont want to pay his bills .. He owe one million dollars in grazing fee's and is willing to kill people to Not pay his due .. I would say Bundy lives off the government every bit as much if not MORE than the folks in the housing project . Perhaps he would not mind 14 hours days in the blazing sun with a whip upon his back ... What a looser . He is No American he does not even KNOW what that means .. He's a class A hypocrite as is most of the Good Old Boys that whip out there AR's ... and cry for freedom .. waving the American as if it really meant something to them . It does not .. He owes the money and he's got some real serious issues with Blacks . But this is the CONSERVATIVES of today .. they think they can solve all there problems ...With GUNS and old glory .. It's a real sick way of thinking ..
Voters look real hard the supporters of people like Bundy .. Regardless of raciest remark , the man wants to have HIS OWN personal Government hand out ... As do the GOP and the TEA party for the Rich and pretty much any White Male with Gun .. take a hard look at there initial support ... They loved the fact he was willing to kill people to NOT PAY HIS BILLS ... Just as the GOP does not want America to pay it's bills , they have made that statement already and will probably try and make it again ... Bundy is a dangerous Allie for the GOP ..and the TEA party because he allows the American Public to see behind there facade and see these Parties for there TRUE SELF ... He is what they see when they look in the mirror and that is a real dangerous place to be .... Just angry and self absorbed ...
This really brings home the hidden agenda of the right and all their multi-billionaire supported lobbying. First it's the Federal government and all their regulations against poor working conditions, eco-friendly operations, health and safety, grazing fees, product safety rules and inspections, then the minimum wage, then unions, then equal pay, then lower taxes "which create jobs" and finally let's go on and abolish the 13th Amendment's prohibition against slavery. Remember historically the predominant social scheme for thousands of years embraced and relished slavery. I'm sure if it meant more power and money there are a lot who would endorse a return to the "old fashioned" way of doing things.
Heh, a bunch of white guys arguing over land rights. Whatever happened to the Native Americans on these lands? Oh, wait a minute, where's that cute ol' "Free Tibet" placard....
Clive the "hater" Bundy (is he related to al)/ Joe the Plumber 2016; a ticket made in Hades.
Of course they denounce his remarks, they're politicians and need to look good for the people, as if they don't actually share these thoughts themselves.
As the Left obediently queues up to see who can be the most politically correct and as gutless GOP politicians run for the tall grass,all would benefit from reading Fred Reed's excellent take on racism. Please Google "Fred Reed" and "Racism". It's worth reading.
Sound to me like this guy is just a cheapskate trying to get out of paying to graze his cattle. The Feds should seal off his access to Federal land with electified razor wire.
Corporate welfare costs about twice as many billions as social welfare. Perhaps if we stopped handing out cash to corporations who outsource jobs to other countries, there would be more jobs in THIS country and we wouldn't need as much social welfare. But that solution isn't even a consideration to the corporately-owned republican party, is it?
The "patriots" are now going to call this a false psy op to frame him so he loses support.
keep in mind, each Cow requires 50 gallons of water...It's all be about accessing Free water on the backs of Tax payers....Bundy is nothing but a Freeloading Rural dumbing down GOP buffoon...
Well done, Theosocrates!
The thought police won't let me get a word in edgewise. You're wasting you breath though. They won't let you explain any further to the school children on this sight,
What an old fool.
Mooching off the good will of fellow Americans while preaching hate and ignorance.