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."
I love it. The neo-con facist right wing and their Faux supporters insert foot in mouth by supporting this domestic terrorist and his band of Tim McVeigh wanna bees.
Even with those comments, I still think Bundy is more trustworthy than the federal government. The feds acted like bunch of thugs and no amount of racist comments by Bundy will ever change that. By the way, he has a right to his opinion, however skewed it might be.
Test moderation comments
Quick, don't look at the government's response or Reid's potential involvement in a land grab. Quick focus the light on the rural rancher's racial thoughts. Quick move the shells around and deflect attention. Use race again. Stir up everyone on that front so they don't ask questions.
LOL. The welfare rancher is exposed as–surprise!–a racist! OMG, too funny, but also too obvious.
More proof that the GOP only believes in small government when it matches their ideology. Otherwise, government can be as large as it likes: subsidies to corporations, subsidies to wealthy farmers/ranchers. LOL! This welfare rancher has been mooching for twenty years because he feels that it his right to do so, but when the working poor need assistance, he calls them the moochers. LOL!
Denouncing people who don't say just the right thing, in just the right way?
I've studied history.
History tells me that our story won't have a happy ending...for any of us. Unless we all stop doing that, of course. But...I'm also a realist. Neither side has the will to stop denouncing the other, at this point. Both sides have fully embraced the politics of destruction.
Chaos, death and civil war is our lot in life, now, I'm afraid.
Backwards, ignorent racists are the base of the Tea Party and most of today's remaining "republicans" and "conservatives" why is this news?
2014 Welfare Demographics
Percent of recipients who are white 38.8 %
Percent of recipients who are black 39.8 %
Percent of recipients who are Hispanic 15.7 %
Percent of recipients who are Asian 2.4 %
Percent of recipients who are Other 3.3 %
Every single Republican I know supports, to some extent, Mr. Bundy's racial comments. Federal lands belong to all of us. The Feds should take up positions and shoot the cattle EVERY SINGLE TIME one of them wonders onto Federal land. If Mr. Bundy can steal 'grass' and not pay for it, does that mean I can go onto Federal land and steal lumber? Coal? Natural gas? Where does the theft end?
OMG.....and he has mooched off the government also for the tune of millions......... people in glass houses sholdn't throw stones. TOTAL hypocrite and anyone that follows him is.
Mr. Bundy has probably just moved into the top 3 in the 2016 Presidential nomination race. A bigoted freeloader on federal land, he is the epitome of the Fox-Limbaugh-RNC hero and intellectual giant.
Dude's cows is gazing on government land and not paying grazing fees? Sorry pal, you just screwed up big time. Get your checkbook out. No difference between you and those maggots who are able bodied but still collect welfare checks.
CNN, you're something else...
"giving Democrats a new weapon to attack some top Republicans who earlier came to Bundy's defense"...huh?
Anyone that defended this guy prior to his knuckle-headed rant here, was responding to the issue at hand re: perceived overreach by the Feds. Any politician who would attack another for a previous defense, simply because this rancher decided to open his pie hole about on a wacky unrelated topic, is a complete hack and would do appear hollow, IMHO.
So we have a man who mooches off government land while others pay fees, defies court orders for 20 years, enlists armed vigilante militiamen to point their weapons at unarmed cattle movers, and he is still getting away with it, and we are surprised that he's a racist as well? This guy doesn't believe in laws and doesn't recognize the U.S. Government, though he waves around the flag when it suits his purposes. My only question is why hasn't he been arrested long, long ago for defying the courts? Why wasn't the National Guard brought in to shut down the vigilantes? Don't tell me we don't have our own brand of domestic terrorists. They were there alongside Bundy in all their full glory. And the likes of Sean Hannity et al were cheering them on. Hypocrites and morons.
The Welfare Cowboy rants against gov't subsidy and that's just what he wants. He wants the gov't to subsidize him by letting his cattle graze for free on PUBLIC land.
I just wanted to repost this, below, because I found it so brilliant it deserves 2 spots on the board:
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.
April 24, 2014 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
The Republicans next Joe the plumber. "My friends"
The real problem is that people who think this way are often called, ..."comic relief". Not to be taken seriously. These "mindsets" should be taken for face value, ...for what they themselves say, ...and treated accordingly. Otherwise, there is no accountability for one's own actions, ...or speech. It is what it is.
The guy is a law breaker pure and simple.
The GOP politicians that support this guy have shown they have no regard for the rule of law or the courts; they support criminals. Remind them of that when they start talking about law and order.
This Bundy guy owes the government for grazing his stock on government-owned lands. He needs to pay up. The republicans, and the tea party, need to decide if they want to back people who are obviously racist. If they do, fine. If not, they need to say so.
geee.... he was a patriot a couple days ago...
So, Bundy is losing a few politicians while he gains thousands upon thousands of so called patriots. That is the reality of the 99.99999999% Caucasian patriots. The supportive politicians are running for the hills because this flies in the face of the new Republican party. A kinder, gentler, more race sensitive party is not fooling anyone except Republicans.
By the way, of course Bundy has a right to his opinion, but others have a right to criticize that opinion once he says it. That's how free speech works.
why has this guy not been arrested yet? he breaks federal law and then brings an armed militia to a standoff with law enforcement acting within their jurisdiction and yet he's gone unpunished.
the fact that a man like this is allowed to walk free while unarmed and peaceful leftists protesters get branded as "terrorists" is truly beyond repugnant and testament to the self-servicing hypocrisy of our government. if members of occupy brought guns to their protests would the feds just call it a day and let them take over public property? no, they'd all be arrested, probably sent to prison, maybe even worse.
i've never been one to say i want to just pack up and move to another country, but this one has really got me wondering. i think it goes to show you just who really controls the show here.
Just because he's a racist doesn't mean he was wrong about the long arm of the Feds and their heavy handedness.
A fine example of that is the IRS agents who received bonuses while not having paid their own taxes. If I was a racist and thought something was wrong with that would it change the fact the IRS is massively in the wrong ? None of those people should receive bonuses anyway as it gives them incentive to manipulate or cheat the system anyway they can to get their collections up to where they get a bonus.