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."
Slavery is a fitting term to describe the pyramid ponzi scheme known as the global financial-economic system.
We have the means, the ability, and also the technology to give everyone on the planet a better life although we do not yet have the mentality to do so. Forcing people to acquire money for their survival is not what I would call freedom neither.
Bundy is putting meat on our tables. Meat that was raised on land that we paid for. Then he sells that meat back to us and makes millions. This jerk is a welfare queen. A millionaire welfare queen. He takes money from the government that he hates and from the taxpayers.
How many times has an african american on CNN blasting whites for being racist? I do not condone any racism at all, but how can someone working for CNN blast Fox for supporting someone that didn't bow down before the almighty government? That's what they were supporting. Not some racist remarks that can after the happening. Keep reporting your "breaking news" on a down flight or a flipped ferry. Maybe Americans will quit rolling over on their backs and stand up for rights that were given to them by their forefathers.
Get a clue and stop the partisan hackery.
We Republicans are outraged by government over-reach.
It's got nothing to do with Bundy or any other individual, racist or not.
Keep trying to re-direct the conversation – everyone with the slightest hint of intelligence sees right through your partisan tricks.
Even though you are getting paid, anybody who has a job is a slave. I am not offended by this guy's comments. Plus, this guy is 67, so he is old school. Frankly, America has a lot more serious problems like the economy and jobs.
When a latge segment of whites are unemployed conservatives blame Obama for not doing anything to create jobs. However when a large segment of any other group is unemployed conservatives blame that group. Also there is a huge difference between slavery and employment. I am begging Fox News to please explain this to their viewers. Apparently they dont listen to anyone else.
I don't understand, don't we have freedom of speech? He has an opinion, we have to respect it
So do you people believe the family unit in the black community is strong? And why didn't CNN publish what he said about the Hispanic community?
Hey CNN! Why don't you show all his remarks from start to finish? Why did you hack them up into convenient little soundbites instead of including the pieces where he talks about how the government is responsible for it and how much he respects Mexicans?
Convenient sound bites. You sir represent everything that is wrong with America.
Anarchy for the USA is coming soon. Goons like this freeloader are taking American society down a very ugly road.
Another Republican exposed as a hypocrite.
This guy mooching off federal land, has the audacity to make degrading statements regarding blacks on welfare. WT literal ****?! I'm not trying to vindicate anyone, black, white, Hispanic or Asian on welfare, and I am certain there are many blacks, whites, Hispanic or Asian who do take advantage of aid, collectively, in a larger degree than Bundy. But....seriously anyone, who thinks 'Classic American' slavery for ANY HUMAN being can "better" than any other form of existence, including welfare, should volunteer to experience it for at least 5 years before running their ****ing mouths.
Too funny...liberals now trying to paint him as a 'welfare queen.' Preposterous...no one can compete with the millions of REAL welfare queens.
Complains about black people on government subsidies but basically is expecting a hand out himself . . . .
Who cares what he said? That's why we live in the USA and have (somewhat) Freedom of Speech. You don't have to like what he said, but keep in mind he has a RIGHT to say what he wants.
I'm black and I agree with Bundy it's not racist what he said it's true.
The Republicans have cut education opportunities and allowed businesses to go overseas under the veil of trickle down economics, giving minorities no way out. It is known that jails have a disproportionally large amount of blacks, and those get marginalized even deeper. Although I will agree that if Mexicans can come here and work the fields, so can blacks and whites. But it's ignorance, and not color what keeps these fools stuck. The government can do much more to invest in education as other countries such as China and India have done. As for this idiot, he has the same view as the majority of Republicans, the only difference is that this one spoke his mind...the others just don't say it in public.
He has the right to say anything he wishes, to a point, even points as ignorant as those statements. Racist fools like him will always bring closet racists out of the closet, as you can see from many of these posts. America has become shameful.
Bundy is the GOOD GUY...in all this
Boycott red meat! Hit these jerks where it hurts. Probably will improve your health.
Its called the inconvenient truth. As a minority from the ghetto I did not understand why I was raised with roaches and rats, junkies in the ally with the base ball bats, but as an adult I looked in the mirror. This subject has been in songs from Ice Cube to Wu-Tang but when a white man says it then he is just insane. Regardless of politics there is a system designed to keep you down. It's HUMAN nature to not work when you get something for free. Keep buying into this blaming this particular rancher that never walked in your shoes, this is by design.
Bundy didn't lie about what he saw.
You can't blame him for wondering.
but you can figure out people Like Ried stockgobbing him so he can steal.
I'm not a conservative, republican, democrat, liberal. I pride myself as being independent. I think both parties feed us a lot of crap. I certainly am the farthest thing possible from a Tea Party clone. But in all fairness, what this farmer was trying to say was not necessarily racist if you take in consideration the point he was trying to make and that is government dependency and control. His delivery was just plain sloppy that's all. All I see here is another example of the media making a mountain out of a ant hill for purposes of revenue. It sickens me more what I see politicians and the media doing more then a stupid uneducated farmer trying to be honest.
If his cows are grazing on government land and he is not paying...isn't he the one getting the .Government Subsidy?
Even if he wasn't a deadbeat who simply refuses to pay his land use fees, he'd still be getting a hefty government subsidy by grazing on public land as opposed to paying another land owner to let his cattle graze on his land. The government charges less than 10% of what private owners charge. And let us not forget to also total up the cost of all of his court challenges that he's lost that the federal government had to pay.
I rather spend my tax money on that women with young children and the old, white/black or any other color, rather than this rich free loader who don't want to pay his taxes like most of us. At he end of the day, we have feed our kids and take care of our old folks.