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."
We need to stop coddling such people and send the troops in to clear out these domestic terrorists network.
How can CNN barely report on Cliven Bundy ' s situation for the last few weeks? Then take a statement he makes out of context and not even give the man some air time to explain himself? Please give the man some air time. He is not a rascist. CNN needs to give both sides of the story and let the individual decide.
We have spent 150 years bending over backwards trying to help the blacks to no avail.
Whether or not he's a "racist" (which has never been clearly defined to me) is irrelevant. The Federal government is out of control and needs curtailing. The people have already proved they can do it once, so they can do it again and again until the Fed has control of itself.
Bundy and millions like him show up at the White House next month. Then what?
The guy was breaking the law. He should be arrested.
When a man uses the descriptive term "colored" in referring to another human being, his mental stability and intelligence must be severely questioned. Intent aside, it was idiotic to say the least. And, just to be clear, the mere fact that this man is "from a different era" does not matter in the least. This term has been offensive since before I was born (30 years ago), so that is not a sufficient excuse. Of course it would have been 30 years ago ... but not today.
How much is this armed stand-off costing US taxpayers? Can't be cheap. Let's add that to Bundy's outstanding $1,000,000+ bill to our country.
Libs who use this to use this as the republican party policy are deceivers. They know good and well this doen't apply . Libs who do this are just being the low lifes they really many are.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" Bundy continued.
You can always make the case that there are people being subsidized that aren't deserving, and maybe the people he was referring weren't, but this is a case of the Pot calling the Kettle Black. So he's using land owned by the taxpayers of the country to feed his cattle, if that isn't a subsidy I don't know what is. Also, although I don't believe in political correctness, this man obviously has some issues.
Well, golly– who could have seen that coming? Oh yeah, Helen Keller.
...so how does one legitimate issue get trumped by the same old whine again?
There are plenty of jerks. They'll always be jerks. But when a jerk brings a legitimate issue to the table, only ignoramuseseseseses would would ignore the legitimate issue because the guy who brings it up is a jerk.
Bundy has shown himself to be the ultimate hypocrite – welfare is welfare whether it comes in the form of government housing or government subsidized grazing. Seems like he needs to look very carefully on his own government dependence before he criticized others. Someone else can decide if he is a racist but he is certainly an ignorant buffoon.
GOP Dream Ticket: Bundy/Palin 2016
why didn't he drive past the trailer parks? did he miss the TV show of all the young white girls having babies without dads. why do racist only see one side?
This man Bundy is a productive citizen and should be allowed to raise his animals on the land he presumably purchased. The Fed cannot kick him out without making sure he has somewhere else to continue raising his animals. I do not like the comments Bundy made but that does not mean American citizens have to be bullied by the federal government. We need the fed to promote peace in our country and stop confiscating people's chickens and pigs just because they have the power and big guns to do that. If the fed needs the land back, let them buy the land back from Bundy and he will use the money to buy another ranch somewhere else to continue his business.
Still would love to know why he is a "Domestic Terrorist" .. they didn't fire a shot , they protested . He hasn't bad for grass for his cows to eat. Also all this stuff about REP being racist. MLK was a REP. , The KKK was Southern DEM. please open a book people. Ask Michael Steele who threw Oreo cookies at him (DEMS did this) . The DEM party is party of Racism ... Sen Bird was a KKK member and a big DEM. Look up a few things VP Biden has said about Indian Americans ... Obama went to an Anti-American, Anti-White Church for 20 years ...
This guy had is day in court, and he lost. Government authorities show not back down from him and his ilk. If they need to use force, then they should do so.
Lol Washington is taking a play out of the media's propaganda playbook and racebaiting now? Pathetic.
Actually, the man was knocking the actions of the U.S. government. Don't make it racist when it's actually a patriot defending his rights by showing another 'failed' example of our liberal government.
Scratch a Tea Partyer and you'll find a bigot.
His cattle are being confiscated to pay a million bucks in fines, sort of like your house, car, and any other hard assets you may own, would be if you owed $1,000,000 to the U.S. federal government. Bundy is the crook here, not the Feds. He is a free loader and grazing his cattle on public land for nada!
Bundy is also a racist bigot, but surely you GOP racists will say his comments, were "taken out of context"!
Keep up the minority "outreach", it is working just fine!
Figures ,once the Republicans are put on blast that they support this racist ,they start to backtrack and say how reprehensible the comments are , but i feel that they all feel this way . Just do not want the public to know their true colors .How soon before the republicans will host a media event to distance themselves from their backing of this racist.
'Joe -God forbid anyone can have free speech'
Does this have to be explained again? Free speech means the government cannot arrest you for speaking your mind. It does not mean that you are free from public response to your speech.
'Kate2756 – 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'
may or may not owe?.....he does owe, for 20 years he has owed payment for grazing his cattle. He has lost time and again in court. No, 'true americans' will support law and order and not armed militia that stand against federal agents performing their legal duty.
'Pancho – The feds acted like bunch of thugs'
In what way? they have been trying to get this guy to pay his court ordered fines for years and in the end finally decided enough is enough and started to remove his cattle from public land. The milita that flocked to his side were more thuggish than they were.
'Misterwire – This man Bundy is a productive citizen and should be allowed to raise his animals on the land he presumably purchased. The Fed cannot kick him out without making sure he has somewhere else to continue raising his animals'
Er, no he didnt purchae anything. He was grazing his cattle on public land and refused to pay for the right to do so that everyone else was paying. Its not his land, and never has been his land. What the feds are doin gis removing his cattle from land that isnt his.
"Also all this stuff about REP being racist. MLK was a REP. , The KKK was Southern DEM. please open a book people.
And the several decades in between now and then never happened and nothing has changed since, right?