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."
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" Bundy continued. "
and here this loser leeches off of PUBLIC LANDS and then refuses to PAY that what he has leeched from the Fed and the TAXPYERS
Pretty sure these comments are generated by people with a direct interest in bundy's land.
so, a rancher who's basically living on government assistance by illegally ranching on public land which as a citizen and tax payer, is part of my land, mouthing off about the lack of freedom people living on government assistance have, should be living as slaves?
I guess he'd know, and I'd assume that he personally longs for the day when he could have been a slave in the south, picking cotton. So he could enjoy more freedom.
Hope that right-winger U-turn didn't leave too many skid marks. These guys were falling over each other to see who could host the biggest 'Clive Bundy Love-in' last week. Now they cant distance themselves from him fast enough.
Could the Tea-party weathervane politicians BE any more transparent?
Way to take things out of context cnn
Ok. He's a racist and an idiot. That still doesn't mean he was wrong about his property rights. Let's just see how far his rights hold up now that he's ensured almost no one will stand up for him anymore.
When you can't beat them. Attack their character. Cry racism.
Can someone point to one thing that Bundy said that is not true?
Wow! I have lived in Veags since 1962, and remember the Sage Brush Wars, this welfare rancher is a direct "throw back" to those years.
That the GOP supports him is no surprise to me, but that the BLM allowed him over 20 years of not paying is the main problem in Nevada, now he has all the Loony-Tunes from all over the nation packing their guns to his defense, this is a train wreck. The only thing good I see from this is now is the Feds can see who those terrorist's are, time to track them and be ready to jail them, we in Nevada want justice, not these drug store wanna be cowboy's with their EXTREME GOP veiws!
He owes "We the people of Nevada" a million or more, time to pay up Bundy!
Hear that rapid tapping sound? That's Republicans backpedaling.
Interesting that CNN would barely report on this whole mess but now its a front page article. I guess they love the race card.
I being a Black Male raised on goverment subsidy, and Goverment Housing agree with Mr. Bundy. I did 12 years in the Texas Department of Correction. I was raised by single mother, who was constantly reminded that she could continue receiving Goverment Subsidy as long as she remained Single and Unmarried. She raised two sons and each of us was convicted and sentenced to Slavery! The Politician are running from the truth. I commend Mr. Bundy for speaking the TRUTH! Nobody ever bothers to asked those directly affeected by the conspiracy to destroy and keep the black family in servitude! Ask A Black Man if Mr. Bundy speaks the Truth and you'll. Hear him say Yas'sum!
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that "Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist. But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite."
So true Senator Reid.
What he said isn't racist because you can apply it across the board. Take any demographic of people, throw them on welfare, take away their reason to work, and now you have slaves of the government. His point is that whoever you get your money from, you are subserviant to them. The government owns anyone who is on the handout.
Cliven Bundy needs a PR "fixer" to step up and tell us that "Mr. Bundy regrets his inartful phrasing". He should go on to explain that "Mr. Bundy really meant to say that our government's welfare policies of the last 50 years have amounted to paying the economic underclass to NOT get jobs and to NOT get married before having children; the resulting damage to the black family structure is a GOVERNMENT-caused tragedy which OUR GOVERNMENT ought to be called on to set right."
After fifty years of welfare, it's become obvious that removing people's incentive to get off their butts and go do something useful with their lives has NOT worked to end (or even reduce) poverty. As a matter of fact, since Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out –several DECADES ago– the cascading disaster that our
welfare policy has inflicted on black families, and since our government has shown no interest in the damage it has CAUSED to those families and to American society at large, one could argue that the US government has engaged in CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR against its own citizens.
(And this accusation of "criminal behavior" comes loooong before our Federal Government sent those armed BLM agents out to Bundy's ranch, and stationing snipers on nearby hilltops! From my point of view, that is NOT how government bureaucrats should treat American citizens...)
They baited him to make him a less than desirable person to back. Media at its finest. Had ZERO to do with the FACTS.
old people, should not be allowed to speak openly on a public forum- their ideas are prehistoric and alien to most people.
So, here is a guy that has stolen $1+ million from taxpayers saying that the black man is freeloading from the gov't. You can't make it up.
Got to love these Republican/Tea Partisans who thought deadbeat scofflaw Bundy and his militia pals were patriots while they were threatening armed violence against government agents who were simply sent to enforce court orders, while they stationed snipers where they could shoot those agents, and while they advocated placing women and girls to the fore so they would be the first killed if shooting broke out. One has to wonder why it took Bundy's making disgusting racist comments for them to pull back from calling him and his pals patriots and to start criticizing pig Bundy. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad they are finally criticizing the disgusting racist, deadbeat scofflaw Bundy. I'm just wondering why it took them this long and how sincere they are in their criticism. I'm also questioning the fitness of these politicians for office since they appear to feel it's fine and patriotic to ignore regulations and laws, to refuse to pay fees owed to the government (and, therefore, the people of the U.S.), to ignore court orders, to threaten violence against those sent to enforce court orders (the law), and to not care that people involved advocate the use of terrorist tactics like snipers and using women and girls as human shields.
The issue of Bundy's view on race has no real bearing on the federal government thugging itself in to steal land.
If he (Bundy) is a racist, then spend some time and explore that... but don't use it as an excuse for the federal government to take land and liberty. Focus.
This is how disingenuous cnn is... Instead of telling the truth... that it was REPUBLICAN pols that jumped on the bundy bandwagon cnn just calls them pols... Don't want to offend republicans with the truth... This why cnn will always be number 3 in a 3 man race....
Why do the media refer to this guy as being a part of the "far right?" This guy represents the smack-dab-in-the-middle Republicans.
Seems that every time there is a 'conflict' like this, opportunists rise up from under the floor boards to exploit it.
This time, it was Republican opportunists.
Next time, it will be Democratic opportunists.
Hannity ends up makeing Glenn Beck look like a grown up- wow who would have thought it.
Did you really not watch the whole video? Typical of CNN not to get all the facts right.