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."
Bundy has the gall to complain about people getting government subsidies, but what does he think he's demanding, taking, stealing? He is a welfare rancher, pure and simple. The authorities are wimps.
This old fraud is lapping at the public trough; he hasn't paid the land use fees for twenty years! He thinks he has the right to be on the public dole and assumes the 'others' he sees must be getting more than him. He's a thief and he desperately wants to shift the conversation to someone he imagines might be getting something for free.
this sad guy thinks he's working, but he's just another republican mooch.
Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself.
it does not matter if Cliven Bundy is a racist. The larger issue is what the federal government is doing in Nevada. Bundy’s comments – now disingenuously used by the liberal media as ammunition to attack supporters of states’ rights – do not undermine the case, which is larger than Mr. Bundy and transcends any remarks he made.
Bundy owes me thousands of dollars on backed rent. I pay taxes, therefore he has been using my federal land. How would you bigots feel if we REAL and EMPLOYEED taxpayers showed up at his ranch ARMED demanding backed rent?
Backpedaling, baby kissing money grubbing weasels probably have the same views as him….but just not in public.
And to think We would not have known any of this if the Feds had not start messing with him. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
I would not be surprised if he is drawing social secuirty and medicaire from a gt he refueses to admit has authority. I guess the Democrats love him now. He is a poster face for why moderates will find the Republican Party to extreme. He is old like most Republicans.
Mad politicans are mis-quoting him, and taking comments out of context, to suit their own agendas. Be wary people.
Slavery ended. The government plantation seems infinate
He's an old timer from a different generation of world wars, etc. – he believes in old values, hard work. Statistically a large percentage of African Americans are dependent on the government dime. Obama and the Dems have expanded that dependency and made it easier. Whether you agree or disagree he has a right to his opinion. He's no more of a connection to any political party than you or me. Everyone has a right to freedom of speech.
Liberals can blow this out of the water as much as you want – if an African American Hollywooder said something cruel about white people it wouldn't even make the local news.
I feel for you Roger Stapp, If they don't post everything with the exception of foul vocabulary, then they are manipulating and making the information on their board biased, easily discredited from its very base. Which also makes all commentary of questionable origin. Lol at the stupid monkeys
Racist? More like, "truthful".
Why do people in this country, mostly the far left, resort to name calling when someone does not agree with their ideology. They yell and scream for more, and more and more. Name it and they want the Government to provide it at no cost to them. Their mantra is quit spending money for things we do not agree with and spend the money on programs we want.
Wow, to think there are still people who think and verbalize things like that.
Well I guess he got his 15 minutes of fame...
Congress talks of moochers and hypocrites. They have platinum mooch cards. Then call patriots "domestic terrorist" when the only terrorist in the world is the US government.
Cliven Bundy... Please think long and hard before you speak to the public. Secondly, don't single out one race. White, Black, Hispanic or Asian every race has welfare recipients.
For the conspiracy theorist, If a revolution were to begin. I would not fight beside Cliven Bundy or the Government.
Im sorry, I thought there were some racist comments here.
Sounds like a guy thats being honest about what he sees in his environment. Until you drive down that street, live in that area, dont judge him, he isnt bound by the social programming that has led to abortions being ok, the poor wasting million so they dont have to feel poor.
Remember, this guys family built America. Just like the Gov taking his land, social programming has people shocked at his words. IMO, he very well may be right. How is Africa doing after Apartheid? I am not raciest, and I respect everyone that deserves my respect. But respect is not given.
Was it not a Republican, Teddy Rosevelt, who did more to reserve land under the aegis of the Federal Government than any president to that day or since?
Might I add everyone is racist to some degree.
Don't get mad cause the truth hurts. Yes minority can be just as racist as majority. Again truth hurts.
This is precious. The tea party fan boy is an ignorant racist. How I'm not surprised. And all the republicans so quick to jump on the bandwagon, what fools.
He is probably half Right!
Okay so this guy didn't use the best words.......but his MESSAGE is dead on. I as a black man cannot reply back with the infamous race card. Why? Because the message is true. Too many minorities get brainwashed by subsidies and other "free" rides that are offered. So in reality there are members of my race that foolishly trade in one form of slavery for another. I love the fact that I was taught by my father the value of hard work and high self esteem. It has allowed for me to show/teach those traits to my own 5 year old son. We all fall on hard times during our lives (I've been through them myself) but its how you respond to those times that determines your character. So did this man offend me? By no means because he wasn't referring to me. Once those individuals start addressing those issues and stop blaming everyone else for their hard times we might be amazed at what happens afterwards. Accountability – its a foreign word to alot of folks out there.
Bankers and ranchers forgot they are the biggest welfare queens. Bum!
ONLY NOW does CNN cover the story of the federal land grab and the use of force by the government and the BLM!
go back to the missing plane story!