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."
Is Bundy a Racist? Most likely. Whats so sad here is CNN. They have not said word one about him. Now they have a chance to push an agenda they are all over it.
CNN just one step above MSNBC
I just listened to his explanation and he was talking about trading one form of slavery for another. He also never said the words "pick cotton". So whoever wrote the article put words in his mouth. I would first look at the source, the New York Times. They never get anything wrong, lol. Didn't they just post a picture regarding Ukraine that they had to retract because they had photoshopped it.
"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."
When GLENN FRIGGIN' BECK is the voice of reason in a situation like this, you KNOW that the world is going to hell in the express lane.
Phil said something so general it is unclear how this can be applicable to the discussion of the article. At the end he said: "If you hate one group based on their ideals or just because they think differently than you, than you are just as bad as this Bundy guy."
Bundy had not said a word that speaks about his hate to anybody. He just asked a question whether the blacks are better of now when liberals put them in another kind of slavery. So when Phil makes his conclusion about Bundy being "bad" he betrays himself as a lib who is accustomed to pervert the truth and facts.
It's official. Old, white, racist... Bundy will be elected the Republican Presidential nominee.
Bundy is a typical freeloader he pays nothing for what he uses and sells his product for a profit he is no different than some one stealing timber on federal property he should have been arrested and held for trial on charges of grand larceny
Why do Americans only associate slavery to black folk? You are a slave regardless of race. Own your house,car or have any other outstanding debt you owe on? You are a slave to the bank. The love of money is the root of many evils. The man is exspressing his concern over how a race of people have never been freed but enslaved by debt just like indians. Wake up
I can't figure out for the life of me, why this man isn't being arrested for terrorism?
the question remains- have the Democrats done the poor any favors by not getting the economy up and running by putting regulation and taxes in the way of business growth? The poor need a safety net but not a permanent hammock that the Democrat just love to provide because it is their way to buy votes. The inefficiency of the current job training programs would have been addressed by Paul Ryan by combining 47 job training programs to 7 with the same money but reduced bureaucracy that would allow more money for training. The Dems killed it because they don't want any cuts or reduce the waste and inefficiency of government. This whole issue of Bundy will be used by the Democrats to continue the war on conservatives even though the Democrats and liberals have no answer to improve the economy. Under Obama we haven't gained the jobs lost in the recession and we have record numbers on food stamps. So much for hope and change.
The new face of the Republican party. He is their hero.
Meat on table and blood pressure meds in the cabinet. Thanks Clive from big pharmaceutical!
He is sort of speaking the truth,although slavery is a brutal word and nobody should have to live as a slave. But the AA people are killing themselves in larger numbers daily,then when slave owners were . I will not deny the fact that terrible crimes were committed by whites hundreds of years ago, but blacks are killing blacks in larger numbers today. There are more black people in jail than any other race ,why because they do not have a job or anything to fell like they accomplished something. So they go out and commit crimes to keep them occupied.i don't know now how we could remedy that but I think what he was trying to say is if we gave them jobs again on the farms and in other industries doing something they would be more occupied and commit less crime.
Does this mean we will be spared coverage about flight 370 and the Korean ferry for a week or so??
I suppose the fact that a man , such as himself that would probably still own slaves, would, when their finances dwindle, gladly sell off the family individually. yeah great family stability. being bread like horses, obviously much better treatment. I do see some of the challenges of poverty, but it is a symptom of a much larger problem.
"They never learn how to pick cotton ..that's is a racists quote no dout in my mind.
Strong agree with his thoughts but his statements may be too strong. Not the black alone but immigrants from other countries also take advantages of the welfare systems. It's not their faults, it's our government spoiling them, nurturing them in a wrong way. The government takes money from the hard working class to give to the lazy class.
Maybe the blacks are just resting after providing ALL of the labor for over 500 years while the white folks sat around sipping mint juleps and destroying the family structure of the blacks by auctioning the children off to the highest bidder. So, let the white people work and support the descendants of those who built this country from the ground up with blood, sweat and tears.
If it were up to the white people to have to work to build this country there would still be only 13 colonies.
Sometimes the truth ain't pretty, but it IS the TRUTH!
Unfortunately the GOP "Republican Strategy" has encouraged the Bundy's of America. If you listen to Republican talk radio, you will hear the racist and anti government themes of this man over and over again in one coded language phrase or another. The difference is that this man speaks with less guile and utters his hatreds in plain language. The Emperor is wearing no clothes!
i know if i don't pay my rent, my landlord throws me out on my butt....so why should get this guy get by years and years of not paying his rent?????? kick is sorry butt out if he does not pay his rent, after all that's what he's complaining about...he himself is a freeloader! next question, how could the government keep letting this man put his cattle on public lands year after year and not collect the rent it's due. if we don't pay taxes the government comes after us, why know this man who now owes millions to the government. does he has more rights then the rest of us??????
Regardless of this persons racial beliefs, If The Federal government can subsidize Mcdonalds workers with free healthcare while we have to pay for it, They have no excuse for telling this guy he cant graze his cattle on idle federal land!!!
Part of what he said is offensive, but you gotta give it to him about his point: the way how many black people live their lives on government subsidies doing nothing with a perfectly healthy body, is it the American way?
What's really comical is the number of people on this thread that are trying to figure out a way to help spin Bundy's words so he doesn't sound so severely ignorant, and his supporters don't look like such dupes. All he has to do is come to Georgia, and he can go in some neighborhoods and see whites sitting on their porches with nothing to do but drink and raise cane. But I guess that doesn't fit his narrative.
This story was nowhere to be found a few weeks ago when there was an armed conflict between American citizens and the US government, but when the rancher says something racist its the front story on CNN. How is CNN any better than the state controlled media in Russia or North Korea?
I am amazed. So, many educated political officials do not know the meaning of racist. Bundy never said white people are superior to blacks. He begs the question, did slavery inadvertently destroy future black families sense of family, tradition, and morals. The psychological factor in African Americans today from slavery and the generation thereafter has been noted by many studies. Typical left wing.
Why haven't this idiot's assets been frozen and/or seized. He legally owes the American people more than 1 million dollars and he is still walking around? Huh?