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 dont see the big deal. He thinks African Americans are enslaved to the federal gov through the welfare state, and he expalins this in a very non-PC way, how is that racist?
...and suddenly, all references to the Bundy story drop off of the fox noise page, replaced by an attention-grabbing article about a college banning selfies at their graduation ceremony.
It's such a mystery...
This man is a damn fool. That is all.
Doen't he look like one? I agree with you 100%
...and suddenly, all references to the Bundy story drop off of the phlox noise page, replaced by an attention-grabbing article about a college banning selfies at their graduation ceremony.
"If Bundy is so terrible with the land, then why has his family made a living off of it ( Nevada is a desert ) for more then a 100 years?"
Disproven already. Do try to keep up.
I believe Mr. Bundy is entitled to his opinion as much as Mr. Sniffet. If you don't like what he says, don't listen.
I was actually thinking of opening a used car lot in the parking lot where the Alamo is...what I can't do that!!???
This thief should be in jail.
He's saying EXACTLY what they all feel. Oh they'll step away from the comments PUBLICLY, but privately they'll simply tell him not to say those kinds of things in public. Those are things to be said privately.
And the messed up part is many blacks work hard but we aren't always given decent jobs so yes some get frustrated and give up. Hell, I want to quit my nepotistic job every day but I can't. And I know I'm not making what I'm worth and I know many more are making more than they are worth. Take a look at the bus lines. Most riders are black and going to dead end jobs just to try to make a living. Truth is most blacks aren't in much better shape than we were before the Civil War. It's pathetic when a grown man had to work for $8 per hour but a white teen with no experience can get a better job starting at at least $12.
Racism is dead and nothing lives out there anyway but stay off my property or Ill shoot.
I love how the left wingers try to attach one man's comments to all people who supported him and his RIGHTS. I'd say that would be stereotyping, something such liberals would be staunchly against. His comments were clearly ignorant, but saying I should be ashamed of someone else's words is absurd and laughable. They need to clean up their own backyard before attempting to hit back.
I'm black. I'm not offended. Was the language he used straight out of 1950? Yes. Could it be *construed* as offensive or insensitive? Yes. But the *content*, if one would use their logic and reason instead of just being emotionally reactionary is frankly thought provoking, and in *part* perhaps even true.
There *is* something wrong in the inner city Black culture today, and it comes from *within* not from outside. Dependent on the government, directionless, fatherless, unmotivated. I agree that there seems to be in part a self-inflicted bondage to mediocrity, dependency, and moral erosion within our inner cities.
Okay, Republicans and conservatives are condemning Bundy's remarks. That's amazing. But, they're not condemning the man's law breaking for the last 20+ years. That's not surprising. They're still trying to ride his "victim of big government" coattails. That's not so surprising, either.
Right wingers are just to proud and stubborn to walk back and completely turn around from something, no matter how toxic it might be. Why is that? Because admitting a mistake, or going in the opposite direction from a previously stated position, is tantamount to signing your own death warrant by suicide in the right wing. They just cannot do it and remain a "serious conservative."
They support him when it suits their "big government" is the boogie man, but then distance themselves when they realize they will lose votes. HAHA!, GOP
Another liberal political correctness story run amuck. Bundy is a cranky old man whose poor choice of words to describe an example of government dependence undercut a basically truthful message. Government handouts and lack of consequences for bad behavior don't promote a work ethic or a strong family unit. Bill Cosby speaks out with a similar message but he's more attuned to the reaction of the terminology police.
“He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately.
"as he said PRIVATELY". In other words, he made the comment in private and someone leaked it to the media. Welfare queen rancher made his comments for ALL THE WORLD to hear, so yeah, apples to orangutauns.
some kid in the streets pulls a gun on the police, guess what happens?
charge these rancher's with no ranch the same price a everyone has to
pay to lease land and put the money towards school or roads. this is a joke.
"I dont see the big deal. He thinks African Americans are enslaved to the federal gov through the welfare state, and he expalins this in a very non-PC way, how is that racist?"
Democrats don't like their racist ways exposed. They like to cover it up so that the brain-dead cannot see it.
all of this guys supporters keep forgetting one small detail...ITS NOT HIS LAND!
Funny how FAUX News will plaster the story of some guy on food stamps buying seafood all over the news – painting him as the perfect poster boy of the Obama lefty social welfare case stealing from the government......yet Mr Bundy has been grazing his cattle for free for DECADES NOW, along with not paying any taxes – and FOX holds him up as some kind of American hero fighting the Big Bad Forces of Big Government. Seems kind of a double standard there.
The problem is, Mr. Bundy was never a hero to begin with. He is a thief who has stolen from taxpayers, and his notion of entitlement is only trumped by his ignorance of the law and the constitution. Freedom for him is stealing from others and then complaining when the bill comes due.
Mr. Bundy already had his day in court, and he lost. American law, the body of work that enshrines the freedom he's so found of, decided in 1897 in Canfield vs. US, that the admission of a state (Nevada) does not deprive the federal government of power over public lands. and in 1976, Kleppe v. New Mexico, the SC ruled that the BLM may regulate grazing on the public lands to protect wild horses and burros.
So, not only is he ignorant of the law and a criminal, he is also a traitor to the United States for inciting insurrection against the very people that are sworn to uphold the Constitution. Not a hero, just a racist loser.
Typical right wing domestic racist terrorist.
America's #1 enemy: Right wing religious fanatics. They make Al Queda look like docile sheep.
Republicans are hilarious, always looking to embace a new hero of the people "one man against the gov'ment" until their new hero feeling flush from all the support and attention says something stupid and then the repubs run from that person like they were black or poor.
no real shocker here, what he said is exactly how every member fo the GOP REALLY feels, they just know they can't say it out loud, and oh if they do, they will be so very aologetic
Darren... your party of racists is doomed...