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."
"Every conservative I know does not support racism, period,"- Sean Hannity
Sean hosted Cliven Bundy the Hannity TV Show on several occasions.
This speaks volumes to me. Sean is talking loud and saying nothing! Especially when Sean is caught with his pants down! Hannity said Thursday on his radio show that Bundy's "comments are beyond repugnant to me."
Which one is it Sean do you support racism or not you can't have it both ways.
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.
Sorry- reality says there is no conspiracy, and there is no "revolution". Bundy IS a welfare rancher.
Comments are amazing. If Bundy is so terrible with the land, then why has his family made a living off of it ( Nevada is a desert ) for more then a 100 years? Point 2: This man has worked is rear off all his life. He has not seen many black people....................
When you work your rear off all your life a person doesn't have time to look at others; he'd be too busy to care.
CONCLUSION: He's using illegal aliens.
Clive used to run cattle on his own land but uses it for a "melon" farm instead. So, he has to run his cattle on the free range to make it pay.
Yes have this discussion, but remember if the numbers are correct 60% of welfare recieptant are not people of color; but the media that he and other listen to tells them that welfare is a people of color thing. How far from the truth that is. Mean while Corporate Welfare is not a problem. just keep them people with less than me, well with less Damn it!
LIVE: Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy holds news conference
Cliven Bundy under fire for racial comments
This man lived in a different decade than we have. It is like a person hoarding money because they lived during the depression. I think he has been tormented by the government and not as educated as Hage. I don't agree with the statements but I also heard statements of people his age. I will ignore the statements and look at the problem that so many Ranchers of Nevada have faced. I think that should be the focus.
I actually felt sorry for this idiot prior to his racist remark as I saw it as big government messing with a small time farmer trying to make ends meet. Now I would like it see he government stomp him like a piece of vermin roach that he is.
"I am liking this Rancher more every day!"
Yes, he is a hero just like Osama Bin Laden.
Both took on the American government. Hitler is a hero as well to most of us Republicans.
Well there you have it. Land rights long protected by local individuals an gov run over by washington. Man however misguided attacked for speaking his mind. Next another law to let federal prosecutors put us citizens in jail for their thoughts. Not on my watch.
What difference is there between making your money off the use of another man's labor without paying or making your money off the use of another man's land without paying?
"He also chided what he called the liberal media, arguing that they ignore racist comments by Democrats and only focus on Republicans."
That's because radical republicans and teabagger racists are the only ones making these ignorant remarks.
Hundreds of armed federal SWAT team people, helicopters rounding up cattle, millions spent,.... meanwhile our is being taken over by millions of illegal invaders and the government claims it can't do anything about it. Yup, they sure do have their priorities straight. I guess only old white law breakers need to be dealt with in the USA now.
Just before the April deadline for filing my tax return I submitted a check for $50 to pay the remainder of my federal taxes. Had i not the govt. would have gone after me.
This flag-carrying Nevada terrorist wants to get something for free that the rest of us would be denied.
I say go after him the way you would go after the factory worker or businessman and businesswoman who does not pay taxes.
Let's go by the law, not by what Fox News tells us.
YES YES the state forced him to say racist comments i get it now.
I work hard everyday my kids on the top one percent of their schools the president is black there are hundreds of Thousands of black owned businesses how long will animals like this exist?
All of you uber liberals should take note and learn some History. It was Democrats that owned the slaves, It was democrats that created the KKK, it was democrats that created welfare, HUD, SS, EBT food stamps and Planned parenthood, to control the african americans.......blame it on conservatives all you want.....just making yourself look ignorant! The longest living Senator in the US was BYRD from west virginia, A DEVOUT KKK MEMBER and DEMOCRAT!!!
Carry you lesson forward 50 years, and you'll see that it is now Republicans who want to end civil rights: declared war on the poor; who are taking away women's rights; who ARE racist; who are ending voting rights, and who are only for the 1%. Democrats weren't always right in the past and the GOP is wrong now.
Dominican mama 4 Obama
Meanwhile...... When are we going to go in there and round up them there cows and have us a big 'ole fashion BBQ?
How about the land that he DOES own? When are confiscating that?
Where do they hold these auctions? I hear that you can pick up stuff on the cheap at gubmint auctions....Rolex watches, luxury cars and yachts, cattle and ranches.......
I reckon Ole Cliven done stuck his foot in his there mouth. How's about he go on and dosey do off that there land or pay the gubmint them there fees.
And for Sean and kelly and the rest of the Fox yahoos, inciting to riot or inciting to bear arms against our govt.. is wrong.
They should be ashamed being so macho in the safe confines of their broadcast studios.
I actually haven't heard comments like this since I read "Uncle Tom's Cabin" . Human dignity is nothing for this man.
Controversial? Sure. But show me the part where he lied.
I'm not sure what all the controversy is about. Whether or not the guy is racist is completely unrelated to whether or not his cattle were grazing illegally on public land. Even if he is racist, that's not illegal, so I'm not sure why we should care about what his personal views are. The only real issue of substance at hand is whether or not he must pay for his cattle to graze on certain lands. Let that issue be decided in court, where it belongs, and ignore his views on certain races, whatever they may be. A court's decision as to whether his is legally in the right or the wrong doesn't depend on whether or not he's a racist, so why worry about it anyway. Completely immaterial.
RWNJ and Fox news + marriage made in heaven LOL
Wow, this guy has just lost all sympathy from me.
Just because he made racist comments (and they may have been ignorant, but he has a point about welfare life being enslavement to the government), does not mean he is not a hero. All people have flaws, but that does not devalue them. Martin Luther King Jr. was frequently unfaithful to his wife, but that does not make him any less of a hero. People allow the media to work them up over over simplified, partisan distractions, when in reality we are just loosing more and more freedom to a shrinking oligarchy.
Quit whining about race...... Unbelievable.....