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."
Trying to figure out where the racist remark.....so tired of this political correct BS
indefensible. everything he said is offensive on all levels. anyone who is defending his comments needs to check themselves.
Ridiculous. Anyone can support a person BEFORE they make racist remarks; it doesn't mean they supported his racism before his racism even came to light. Should Democrats be held accountable for supporting each other before their affairs come to light? I'm so sick of both parties using whatever turds their can fit into their crap slings they can find.
Weren't the Republicans in bed with him yesterday, and now they're denouncing him? What fickle dates they are.
Surprised anyone is surprised. This is who these people are; don't think for one minute that the rest of these sympathizing yahoos feel differently. Right wing politicians love people like this; american heroes right? After all its their base. They jump on it in person and support these nuts, yet they have a spokesperson write something that distances them later. Throwbacks, uneducated people looking for a platform to rage against the government, for some imagined wrong, and sprinkle just a bit of their true self in the process.
As an educated black woman with no children I'm terribly offended by his comments. I work very hard to live a decent life. It just makes me think no matter how much I excel I'll always be thought of as a black, uneducated welfare mother. People I just want you to realize all of us aren't the people he describes and if those are the only types I black people you know then find another circle. Most of my friends and family are highly educated and have never received a dime from the government. We aren't all alike. All white people aren't racist and all black people aren't lazy.
get out the butter because this dude is now toast – plus. I'm a repub and if the Chinese are going to build a plant on that BLM land and put our money back in the US, I would rather have the plant
What did he say that was untrue? I re-read but couldn't find it.
Listen to his remarks! It makes sense. Would you rather deal with a hip hop drug felon or a respectable hard working slave?
Bundy just said in public what most republicans won't say in public. Come to Texas and get involved with the tea party and when they are in their little breakout groups when no one else is around, these are the kind of comments you would hear. Plenty of N word remarks as well. It is part of the very center of the tea party movement and no matter what they deny,it is a big part of why the tea party exploded AFTER Obama was elected. You see,White's are superior to Blacks, don't you know?
Hah, the fellow touched a nerve eh? He makes some pretty honest, non-PC observations about the black community. What does CNN do? Scream bloody murder that the man is a racist and attempts to tie him to every Republican out there.
Is CNN supposed to be a journalistic enterprise or is it just running propaganda for the DNC? Is this the open discussion on race that Obama and Holder have been calling for? (e.g. say a word about blacks and immediately castigated and linked to the RNC?) What a joke.
Why should this surprise anyone.. Clive has a lot more experience with cattle than real Americans of color.
Speaking of racists.....no, not the GOP house just Bundy!
Nothing he said was racist. He was stating that whether you're a slave to a human, or a slave to the government, you're still a slave. Nothing racist there. The liberal media is making an issue where there is none.
People should be judged individually by their accomplishments. Cliven Bundy's comments are reprehensible and have no place in modern society.
The private market rate for allowing one head of cattle to graze on private land is over $16.00 per head. The government is charging Cliven Bundy less than $2.00 per head to graze on public land. So the taxpayers are subsidizing Mr. Bundy to the tune of more than $14.00 per head. But that's perfectly okay, because Mr. Bundy is a "businessman". He deserves it. He's a "job creator". He's not like the poor mom working two jobs and still needing food stamps to live. He's not like the poor mom with two young children, living in her car with no childcare available, while she desperately looks for a job. He's not like the lazy black guy collecting unemployment because no one will hire, despite his clear qualifications. These people shouldn't be allowed to be a drain on society. They need to figure out how to make it with no help. But Mr. Bundy... well, he deserves all the help he can get.
Vee – no, racism is not simply 'hating' other races. It is stereotyping based upon race. Your comments are stereotypes. Yes, there are many low-life blacks. There are also low-life whites, Asians, Latinos, whatever. I live in a fairly integrated area (Middle Eastern, East Indian, Latino, Black, Asian and Caucasian mix). I don't see any of those different racial groups with a noticably greater percentage of low-lifes. Believe me – the kids in school call all of the low-lifes 'ghetto', regardless of their race...
I say get him off the land and take his weapons away from him too. Everyone in this great country pays their taxes. Why should he get to use the land for his cattle for free. What happens if you do not pay your taxes? You have to pay fines and go to jail. All the people that showed up with their guns should have them taken by the police. As for his comments about blacks, shows he has no respect for anything. If we let people do what they want just because they have guns, we are not far away from a broken system that will hurt us all.
"You think that's what I'm about, America?"
Honestly, no. I think you are an illiterate racist goon part hill-billy enough to summon friends with rifles and shoot federal agents for the sheer joy of it all.
Go away, far away.
Ranchers (especially big ones) are even bigger welfare queens than the imaginary ones if they use federal lands and leases...what a sweet deal. This pos has been grazing and fattening his cattle for the last 20 years on land that is not his. The Feds should treat him like he'd treat any of us if he caught us trespassing on his land to hunt.
Harry Reid working his magic.
This guy was the poster boy of Republican party, then he runs his mouth off. And they all try distance themselves from him, even though in they all share their core values and beliefs, about the black man. And who can blame them?
Not me, when I see young black mothers with multiple kids with no apparent fathers around living in apartments, houses, paid by the government. Well enough of my tirade, this country has a problem getting young black educated and involved in government without the Republicans trying to muff somehow.
The video this freakout is based on is from media matters, and has been edited to remove at least 2/3 of the video, and virtually all of the context. This story is essentially fake: based on an edited video. Keep that in mind.
Nobody wants to hear the truth....no matter HOW it is presented.....and in this case....poorly.
I just love it when the real "moochers" of our country are exposed!