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."
Is anyone surprised by these comments? He isn't the only one who share these thoughts, he just didn't have enough sense to keep his mouth shut. He is from the same school as Paula Deen who longs for the plantation days when black folks wore their white uniforms, served the white folks and sang their happy songs in the field while picking cotton in exchange for room and board. I really think some folks still think that way.
He is wrong for his raciest remarks. However that has nothing to do with the problem Which is "does the government have the right to prevent someone form making a living through a means that has been practiced for decades. If you use his remarks to ignore this then you obviously have no argument to stand on
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.
Like Jesse Jackson, Jr.?
Those comments are truly bad, but beware of the media and liberal networks trying to paint all conservatives with the "Racist" label because of Bundy's ridiculous remarks. That simply is not true. However, the mainstream media will now FLOOD the coverage with derogatory comments ...any excuse to use one man's comments to paint a bad image for all conservatives. Don't fall for it. It's like they've tried to label any citizen who doesn't agree with the administration's policies as Racist and "extremist"....simply NOT True. Very divisive and it's not constructive.
Stop jumping on bandwagon that's going nowhere. No one supports those comments. The fact that people accuse others of supporting this shows their bigotry. Meaning even discussing this is bigoted. Colorblind people colorblind. Only way we will ever be free.
When is this racist anti-American scofflaw – and his domestic terrorist supporters – going to be jailed??!!
What Is Taking So Long??!!!!
Harry Reid and his fed coat gestapo want that land for a chinese solar panel farm.Reids son works for a law firm in Laughlin which is located in Clark County where the Bundy Ranch is located.The government defunded the desert turtle program and Reid moved the area designated for them to help out his developer buddy who donates to Reids campaign.Although that man has been charged for that crime.Rory Reid is Representing Chinese Company ENN.This is Nevada Mafioso tactics.
Pay up or we throw your family a beaten!!!!!!!!!!!
Signed: Harry "The Godfather' Reid.
Of course this means that Cliven Bundy will throw his hat in the 2016 presidential election with full backing of the GOP and the Tea Party. He's just their type.
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?
Yeah! And why doesn't anyone ever stand up for Osama Bin Laden? Why was flying into skyscrapers a bad thing?
So a Republican supports Mr. Bundy for a political view that he has, and then he LATER expresses another opinion that he had yet to express, that Republican must automatically be associated with both views?
CAN SOMEONE PLEASE EXPLAIN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THIS AND BARACK OBAMA'S FORMER PASTOR JEREMIAH WRIGHT?? Barack listened to Rev. Wright for years, he came out as a racist and only then did Barack distance himself. The aforementioned Republicans knew only one expressed view of Mr. Bundy and only for a very short time, with no direct contact or interaction with the man. I'd say the relationship of Mr. Obama was much worse.
He's the difference: No one was committing a crime, and no one showed up with guns.
@ Dominican mama:
"The only use this type of person is to me is for comic relief."
I've been reading through the comments trying to choose the best fit for Clive Bundy. So far "Welfare Rancher" tops
the list ... but, boy oh boy ... there are so many nifty comments I find that picking a winner is serious business indeed.
Wow that was a bonkers comment and I support this guys stand against the government. He's right when it comes to his stand against the government, they have too much power when it comes too OUR lands BUT that comment was just so wrong it's not even funny.
Bundy and his anarchist posse are no more patriots than the the likes of Timothy McVeigh. The message that he and the NRA are promoting is that if you do not agree with the government you should take up arms against it. That is not patriotism, that is treason. And yes he is a hypocrite, stating he doesn't believe in the Federa Government while proudly flying theAmerican flag. But for his obvious racist views, I'm sure more "Tea Party" and other ultra right wing groups would be standing by his side. If you believe his rhetoric, you'd just as soon pull out your confederate money and wage the civil war again.l
This guy is too dim witted to be listened to. The Feds should just place a warrant for his arrest and wait until he can be grabbed harmlessly. We don't need another Waco.
Isn't free speech great. Just let them keep talking. The Bundys and Fox fake news of the world will put both their feet in their mouth .
This country, media and politicians are a complete joke!
I want to tell you one more thing about the Nevada welfare rancher. In front of that government land the cattle gate is usually open – and there is always at least half a hundred of their cows grazing on government subsidized grass – they don’t have nothing to do. Their kids don’t have to round up the cattle and take them to the market to pay for grazing fees. Because they are basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? Teach their children to be racists, put their young men in militias because they never learned how to herd cattle. I often wonder if they were better off as serfs belonging to the land that the king owned or are they better of as welfare ranchers? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom.
It's not racist to use the N word. The blacks use it all the time. Nice try CNN to create something out of nothing.
I wonder if Rand Paul still wants to make this racist his new besty? Hilarious. Another example of a politician attaching himself to some beacon of our community only for it to backfire.....AGAIN.
Good ol Cliven. Can't shut his piehole when he's ahead.
Disgusting. Shame on tea cons & Fox propaganda for supporting this racist & lawless nonsense.
When will CNN be updating their article to correct the date that the Bundy family purchased this land and began grazing on it? Hint: 1948 and 1957.
Another GOP hero bites the dust
The media and the three ring circus in Washington is a joke!
Bundy is on welfare too and me being a tax payer living in the northeast I am paying for it and I'm paying more in taxes because he's not paying his. The grazing fees that ranchers pay is only a portion of the cost of maintaining the land (maintaining roads, putting out fires, killing coyotes and other predators who kill cattle). He is the definition of a hypocrite.
Clearly, Mr. Bundy's image of himself and his family history about grazing cattle is not supported by the facts. He is a liar.
Also, if Mr. Bundy took a drive through poor parts of West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, etc. he would see a lot of white people doing what he thinks only blacks do, i.e. on welfare, generations of poverty, not doing much, etc. He is the definition of a racist.