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."
What does his illegal grazing on public lands have to do with "the black man"? Apparently he blames all his problem on the other races.
A lifetime of being a republican has taught him well.
Poor Mr. Bundy. Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
Sucker punch to the extreme right....
Keep digging into the entire video of what Cliven Bundy said, the first part of the video he uses bigoted terms. In the uncut video he says illegal immigrants are here, and we need to love them because they are people too and they work hard and pay taxes. He says Mexican families have a stronger bound of unity than most white families.
Seriously? This isn't about damn Republicans, Democrats or Cliven Bundy. It's about government over reach. Leave it to liberals to bring politics into it. Whether it's Nevada, Utah or Texas, the government is out of control. It might be Bundy today and you tomorrow. Wake up!
Again history shows that while not all Republicans are Racist; all Racist are definitively Republican.
I'll leave all the obvious "dittos" about his racism to the rest of you, but I had to chuckle at his yammering about people being on welfare and getting subsidies when he's been grazing his hooved locusts on public lands for decades and couldn't even bring himself to pay the fire sale fees that the BLM charges. Fact is, he and his family have been clamped on to Uncle Sam's teat so long they can't even spell "irony".
enjoying the show
ONLY the Ignorant XTRA stupid did not see this one coming
Perhaps Bundy may find Ted Nugent a man after his own heart. They might now have reason to explore the issue of marriage equality with less cynicism.
The land that you used to feed your cattle did not belong to you it belongs to all Americans. Why do you think you should have free access to this land? Is it because you are a farmer with cattle and there have special rights? GET OFF THE DOLE ANG GET A JOB WE DONT OWE YOU ANYTHING. YOU ARE JUST A GREEDY TEXAS PIG,
We are just our own worst enemy. There are some of us that call certain people in this country free loaders when we all know that the biggest freeloaders are the multinationals. They are USING all types of distraction to keep eyes off of them. If you are convince that "Black People" in this country are the cause of the woes we are now facing as a NATION than you are completely brainwashed! Trust me there are forces at work in this country which have such a far out agenda that does not included the have not! and it just not the black people. Look around you and OPEN your eyes and see the folks that are out of work, working 2 jobs, in debt, while jobs have gone over seas why? for cheaper labor which is higher profits for AMERICAN corporations, are the blacks the cause of this? Bundy is a poor excuse of any kind and frankly speaking if the human race survives long enough his kind will die out.
He is a WELFARE recipient and the so called "patriots" defending him want to destroy the US Government. If anything, they are the commies (communist sleeper cells anyone?)
Create drama anywhere you can, to shift the focus from BO's failed presidency. This is at the laughable stage. Nov 4th coming, and flush the dems/ libs.... Lol
I love the way the rethugs jump all over someone who actually has the stupidity to say out loud what they all privately think. talk about the pots calling the kettle black!
Federal land is public property. He argues it belongs to him so he should not pay to graze his cattle and make a profit.
But you and I own the land too.
Part of the profits for using our land accrue to you and me.
That's what the fees are that he is refusing to pay.
By refusing to pay the fees, he is stealing from you and me.
folks, this is the population we have to rely on to compete with emerging nations? Its curious this relic trashes subsidies while he is grazing on federal land for free fro decades!
Bundy might want to try out slavery, lets see how long he lasts when he is forced to pick cotton under all conditions, no matter how he feels....lets see how he feels when told what and how much he eats....lets see how he feels when he's had enough and tries to leave only to find theres no escape, no reprieve, no hope – and there are many more horrific elements I haven't listed....he should experience it all.
A thoroughly disgusting mindset.
The problems w our inner cities and poor areas doesnt have to do w skin color but the reality of the barriers/hurdles folks face with disdavantage socio economics. Often we see andr we color code it, we have to move off that.
The traps and temptations that hurt opportunities is not color blind and are escalated by poverty.
Folks who dont value education, dont have job opos in the neighborhood, have no father support, and live w crime and criminals in a rocks throw will be at a disadvantage.
Old dumb dude rancher is now Humpty Dumpty.
Now there are folks who continue to self infkict and self destruct because of actions. Rancher only used a 30 sec sound bite to implode.
Republicans are turning into a running joke, that thrives on foot in their mouth humor.
Hey...this guy is not paying the fee's that ALL ranchers pay when they graze cattle on federal land, pay. What makes HIM "so special"? What a joke....in a 10 gallon hat! He MUST PAY, what he owes US or....pay the consequences!
‘There must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.
sometimes i have to wonder about america. do i hate the fact that there are blacks on welfare and some don't want to work? absolutely. problem is people like to forget american history and how america failed blacks as a whole. banned them from buying homes, opening businesses, churches to worship, jobs and other civil liberties that were granted to whites so that they could empower their families over the decades. all those black people that marched with MLK wasn't asking for welfare checks, they were asking for EQUAL RIGHTS and JOBS. if you think i'm lying, google it and read the signs. now ask yourself, what is one to do when he/she is denied what we consider basic things? i really feel bad for black americans. they did ALL the work during slavery while the white man sat and watched. now that the game has changed, shame on you blacks for not keeping up. it's not like they gave you the tools to dig the hole – they want you to use your bare hands. sure, you can get it done, but it's going to take longer and there will be hardships that come with it. this rancher guy to me is the dumbest. it's obvious he has never been anywhere and believes everything he sees on TV. it's just disturbing.
Keep talking Craven. The Tea Party is like having Christmas all year long....