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.
Follow @LACaldwellDC Follow @KilloughCNN Follow @psteinhausercnnFollow @politicalticker
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."
Bill Cosby has made similar comments.
It is amusing when the Left can find someone that they can vent all of their hostility upon. I don't know who Bundy is, nor do I care
Then there is no point to your post.
Why have we not arrested this idiot yet? He is not a freedom fighter, he is a racist and a criminal. Arrest him, charge him, and move on to more important news.
I'm sorry did this guy just call everyone of us slaves to the federal government and now it is just black folks who are supposed to be offended ?
I am offended and I'm a white dude.,
I do not want to be a tax slave forever never really owning a home or the piece of land it sits on,
you and I will all ways be worried about paying off those ever growing property taxes and fees.,
they keep going up and when you and I get old and can no longer work?
You and I should loose our homes and the land it sits on?
Income and property taxes ruined America and gave it to the ever growing governmentand their friends in power., The banks.
Way to go dummy. You had support, now its going to fade away because you stuck your foot in your mouth.
No! But I will. He is in office after all. I promise I won't do it years after he's left. Deal?
To every piece of GOPer filth on here – the hippies were right again – the GOP and their elected officials support racists because apparently they are too ignorant to recognize them.
If black people always stick up for black people, why can't white people stick up for other white people? Why is one right and good and the other wrong and racist?
Welcome to the Republican Party of the 21st Century.
The film of this welfare racist riding his horse while holding the American flag is so ridiculous considering he "doesn't recognize" the government this flag stands for. The hypocrisy is overwhelming.
Bundy is 67 so I'm assuming that since he doesn't recognize the USA, then he isn't accepting his Social Security.
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.
Sure it does. He was stealing from each and every American for 20 years by not paying his duly owed grazing fees. He is the best example of a "welfare queen" there is. A Republican caught committing a $ million crime.
So, if a racist says the sky is blue, does that mean the sky is not blue?
Before the reactionary reader reacts, I'm referring to the land issues, not these most recent comments. Just because this guy is a racist, it does not mean he is automatically wrong or right on the land issue.
Two. Different. Things.
So not only is he a wacky, libertarian racist, he's also a freeloading moocher who had his day in court, lost and now refuses to comply with the law.
Seems like sending a SWAT team in there to arrest him would be the nicest option.
"The press in general seems to be very shy about challenging the administration, as if it's making some sort of political statement rather than just doing our job as watchdogs," explained Attkisson. "I didn't run into that same kind of sentiment as I did in the Obama administration when I covered the Bush administration very aggressively."
While she said some of the timidity among reporters about covering the Obama administration was due to "liberal political bias," Attkisson also blamed the White House for putting unprecedented "pressure" on reporters.
"I think any journalist who's been covering Washington for a few years would agree … that there are—there's pressure coming to bear on journalists for just doing their job in ways that have never come to bear before. Now there’ve always been tensions, there have always been calls from the White House under any administration I assume, when they don’t like a particular story. But it is particularly aggressive under the Obama administration," Attkisson said. "It's a campaign that’s very well organized, that’s designed to have sort of a chilling effect and to some degree has been somewhat successful in getting broadcast producers who don’t really want to deal with the headache of it—why put on these controversial stories that we’re going to have to fight people on, when we can fill the broadcast with other perfectly decent stories that don’t ruffle the same feathers?"
20 years at CBS as a reporter – Sharyl Attkisson
I love all of my american friends. (honestly.... )
But this guy is what makes me proud to be Canadian.
Agenda 21. Just the beginning....
Someone needs to tell this racist slug that out of the top 10 states for food-stamp-usage, 6 out of 10 of those are Republican states.
Get this clown Craven Bundy off TV and into a prison cell where he belongs. For extra laughs, give him a cell mate who can teach him how to "pick cotton".
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.
What problem is that? Being a rich rancher who ran up $1 million in unpaid grazing fees, who has lost twice in court?
"The comments reveal that he's racist. What does that have to do with the government taking his land?'
The government never took his land..and wasn't intending to take his land. They were taking his cattle as payment for the one million dollars he owes in grazing fees which he hasn't paid.
I have some mixed feelings about this man. My ancestors are from this little section of the Virgin River (just upriver in Hurricane) – so I have some native affinity. I have not figured out whether the BLM fees are excessive or legitimate. The story is a bit ambiguous there.
I think that welfare can be a trap. But I am not on board with all of the opinions and options of either the Democrats or the Republicans.
But ultimately, anyone who can even hint that slavery was a better option than even a hard freedom, is a dangerous and disillusioned man. I have no liking for comparing a person to Hitler. That man was so monstrous as to be outside the realm of most comparisons. But Bundy's comments were Hitler-like in that he suggested a person can be better off being controlled for his own good. Once he even stood close to that position, he lost all support from me.
""Every conservative I know does not support racism, period"
Really Hannity? And you expect folks to believe that?
Not all conservatives are racist, no doubt. But there is a STRONG likelihood that any given racist is a Republican.
This is what you get when you glorify a REAL 'Taker.' One who's been getting over on his fellow Americans for two decades.
You 'patriots' who defend him are anything BUT patriots.
It is amusing when the Left can find someone that they can vent all of their hostility upon. I don't know who Bundy is, nor do I care. What concerns me is the reaction of the liberals, the same people who tell us that we should be tolerant of other viewpoints, except those they disagree with. The Liberals on this forum want to do the same thing to Bundy that the KKK and segregationists did to African-Americans in the early and mid part of the 20th century.
Now our remember why I bought all of those guns.
Tolerant of other viewpoints? You have got to be kidding. Bundy has been getting a government handout in the form of free land for his cattle for years. The rent is due and he refuses to pay or to get his cattle back onto his own land. The land owner (BLM) has folks round up and hold his cattle. Bundy and the other fools come along and use their guns to get the cattle back. That was illegal as hell. How in the world do you defend that?
Comparing people being outraged over what Bundy said to the KKK and segregationists? Dude, buy a vowel.
Sorry- reality says there is no conspiracy, and there is no "revolution". Bundy IS a welfare rancher.
I absolutely agree. Bundy is a welfare king.
Amused i'am not,good you have all your guns you poor pathetic loser with no life.Also learn the English language its definitely not amusing when someone cannot even write a cohesive sentence.