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."
@ 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 ...
Yes that one resonated with me as well.
We should hold a contest!
What a surprise - a right-wing GOTP hero is a mean-spirited racist. Total shocker.
The media keeps promoting these crack pots like Pelosi and this guy who keeps the racist card in focus day in and day out. I would have to say that 90% of Americans aren't racist but you need to play that card to get votes and people watching these worthless News Networks.
this is a guy who was only asked to pay $1.35 per head of cattle a month to graze on PUBLIC GROUND and he has the audacity to complain about people getting govt assistance. he is a welfare rancher, a bigot and disgrace.
To all of those who don't want to be painted with the same brush as Bundy, many of you hitched your wagon to this clown so now you get to wear it. A GOP Senator even called him a "patriot"! You are so blinded by your hate for Obama and the Federal government that you'll throw your lot in with anyone and you 100% deserve to be called out for this. Next time try and find a brain rattling around in your head and use it before you support someone that was so obviously on the wrong side of the law that even Glenn Beck didn't buy in to his garbage.
See Repubs run. See Repubs run. See Craven pay.
The ultra conservative whacko is also racist?!?! I am shocked!
This pot belly pig got his nerve being racist lmao
Let the smeat campaign begin. How he feels about certain groups of people doesn't change my view on the feds land grab.
Welfare dependency is an issue. But saying "they never learned how to pick cotton" instead of, say, "they never learned to be machinists" or "they never learned to be programmers" shows where this Bundy guy is coming from.
God forbid anyone can have free speech... The alter of political correctness won't have that... Drive thoroughly Detroit and you think about what you see - I dare you
Occupy is Domestic Terrorism. Bundy is just an old screwball tired of the BLM screwing with him.
The BLM is about to get someone shot in Texas. They are trying to claim private property. This will be a shootout. The BLM versus the Texas Rangers.
Is he getting government subsidies for his use of the land? I might have misunderstood the whole jest. But if he is, how is he different from the same people he has a problem with? Government help is the same no matter how you "spin" it. It's welfare if its in the "hood" subsidies if your a farmer. Both are handouts.
So it appears Cnn is trying to sway public opinion about Mr. Bundy. Mr. Buddy is just a person trying to make a living, he may or may not owe grazing rights. He certainly does not deserve to have snipers trained on his family, and the buzz is that federal agents are amassing in Las Vegas for another show down. Do we really need bloodshed over grazing rights and some turtles? True Americans will stand with Mr. Bundy, this is about the TPTB
over reaching their powers, and possibly that Mr. Harry Reid is the real terrorist. Maybe next time the TPTB will be coming after you.
I am a conservative but a law and order conservative. This guy is a law breaker and things got a little disorderly. But the media loves to put the race card out there. This guy should get no press at all. He should get fined and slammed in jail for steeling from us for 20 years. His no patriot nor is anyone who supports lawlessness…. or racism.
When I first heard about this rancher and his conflict with the BLM, I thought he was being stepped on. But then I found out he's been grazing his cattle on public land for years and doesn't want to pay the fees that others pay. That is money owed to all of us as taxpayers. And now he opens his mouth and spouts this racist garbage. Whatever support I felt for him the beginning has evaporated to zero. No sympathy.
Well, he's wrong and right I suppose. His point on welfare being entrapping and equivalent to modern day slavery is something that many can agree with. However, actual slavery is never a better option, even if the family structure were maintained and people had something to do. At least there is a hope of freedom and success as a welfare recipient, but there isn't even a chance with slavery. That is the difference. No human deserves to have their life chosen for them.
I'm not going to denounce anyone for speaking their mind, but I will gladly point out where he's wrong. We've moved on far enough in society where we can calm down the panic reactions to all things that are even slightly controversial and approach things logically. If you're screaming "RACIST RETHUGLICAN BIGOT WHO SHOULD HAVE HIS GUNS TAKEN AWAY AND BE THROWN IN PRISON!" then you probably need to consider not grouping everything you disagree with into one big pile. Attack the idea, not the character. Your doing nothing but stirring up pointless controversy otherwise.
Every republican may not be a racist...but every racist seems to be a republican...
Just because a man ponders his thoughts on a racial topic you want to declare him a racist. If that is the case then everyone one on this earth can be considered a racist.Racism is not a thought but a action and a belief. since when does a thought make a person a racist. You do not know this mans heart only what he ponders at times. It is easy to call someone a racist and I will bet you the Harry Reid is a closet racist that uses this as a excuse to attack anyone whoe disagrees with him. What a BIGGOT!!!
HANNITY the GOP CLOWN and STOOGE looks like a total loser and MORON that he is along with the REST of the Fox News clowns , male AND female!!!!
scotch1337 – Racism aside, I just want to address this comment:
"Does the government have the right to prevent someone form making a living through a means that has been practiced for decades?"
The answer is, it does. It is called imminent domain, the government is allowed to take your land, your house, etc legally if it satisfies certain requirements according to a judge. One can appeal this ruling, but usually will lose. The government must offer fair pay in exchange for your land, which they did for all the other ranchers who had been using it.
In this particular case, the rancher is fully within his right to use the government land, but he must pay the government for that use. Someone who does not pay his taxes is not a hero, sticking it to the government. They are takers from people like you and me who do. That land belongs to us. Would you put up with a neighbor whose dog dropped a duce on your yard everyday with no plan to clean it up? Then why would you put up with this guy? Would you put up with drug dealers growing pot in your garden? So why deal with this guy? He's breaking the law and stealing from your pocket at the same time.
Now, I don't really care all that much what people do on government land. But if everyone acted like this guy, there would be no parks, etc for all of us to enjoy. If it doesn't satisfy the categorical imperative, then its not a moral act. And if you don't know what that is, look up Kant.
Welcome to America – where you can't voice your opinion anymore, else you will be persecuted...
The clown Bundy has been stealing from the government – from us – for decades, yet has the audacity to criticize folks on public assistance. Seriously?
Another prime example of.....
Stupidity & Hydrogen are the two most common elements in the Universe.
He's just representing terrorist Christopher Columbus.