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."
He is not racist. He is expressing a view. Why is the welfare system full. ? Why is downtown Bham full of people doing nothing but waiting on a check. Its not their fault. Its a broken govt system. Bundy sees this. He may not be politically correct but he sees the harm the govt is causing by having masses on welfare instead of helping educate and get people jobs.
Well there you have it. A man expressing his honest opinion on how he views African Americans. Mr. Bundy say's "I wonder" when he compares the state of Black people living in America now, as opposed to when in slavery. But my question is: Does Mr. Bundy ever wonder how different the lives of African Americans might be if we had received some kind of reparations, in the form of investing in our communities, rather than just providing some low-income housing? In a way he's actually right, if he believes that there's not much difference in Black people living in some broken-down crime-ridden housing projects, vs living in slavery. Only slavery on some plantation was only really meant ( for the most part ) to enslave the body, where as living in the housing project situation, hearing the 'tranquil' sounds of gunfire, screaming, police sirens...etc is a form of 'mental slavery'. Personally I believe that the time has come in America, to FINALLY have 'open' televised town-hall like debates on the subject of race. Oh CNN, I'm making you proposition to consider hosting such events. Why keep sweeping this extremely important issue under the rugs of obscurity? Such forums could give our 'leaders' a chance to really hear what's on the minds of everyday Americans! Then maybe, when all sides of the race arguments can be heard, 'We' as a nation divided can find some kind of common ground. Otherwise, expect for there to be a lot more Cliven Bundys crawling out of the woodwork. And if we continue to kind of ignore people like Mr. Bundy, it might not be long before we hear about a Black man being 'lynched' again in America. So let us not underestimate the hate behind the words of Mr. Bundy, and others like him! I.F.
When did we start calling citizens who take up arms against the government and threaten to kill U.S. Law enforcement personnel patriots instead of TRAITORS and DOMESTIC TERRORISTS
What an ignorant ungrateful stupid creep...sorry for the name calling...Please eject him from the headlines!
Only thing he's guilty of is bad vocabulary and word choice. If you take out those words regarding race, then this wouldn't be front page on cnn......and Democrats/liberals wouldn't be having a filed day........he still has his free speech no matter how idiotic it may be......but Iiberals are trying to take that away too.....smh ......make have no choice but to rely on the government
So if he's a bit, or a lot, ignorant it's ok to take his land and bankrupt him? He probably is more of a racist than he even knows, and it came through in his comments, but he was trying to make a valid point about the slavery of the welfare state. Regardless, does that make it ok to take his land and bankrupt him?
The real story behind all of this is that this media source and others under the direction of the government wants to discredit Bundy. The mistake Bundy made was in giving any interviews because the news reporters working under the government already had intended to marginalize Bundy. Why? Harry Reid and his cronies want to give that land to a chinese company. The company plans to build miles and miles of solar farms on that land. Reid and company will be rewarded with billions of dollars to keep and give to cronies. This is the real story but the govt. backed media won't cover it.
Most Black people aren't on welfare and some are working two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The majority of welfare recipients are White females. This stereotyping of Black people all being lazy and on welfare is ridiculous and is a sign of ignorance among White people.
Manufactured outrage, the man was thinking out loud, read his enitre statement, do some thinking for yourselves people.
I want a standoff between these people and our Government. I can't believe these nuts think the Founding Fathers wanted to protect their "right" to ignore the law.
Fox news is too concentrated on hatred for Democrats that they are blind as to what is in front of them!
That's right you anti government men.. put those women out there first.. sacrifice them to save your hide... that's what real men do. Well real men as described by the republicans.. Men above women, women are second class citizens who can be sacrificed for their cause.. might but a few children up there too... well at least the little girls. Just like Osama hiding behind women's skirts.
Welfare "Queen" Bundy's comments doesn't surprise me. A lot of ignorant whites and non-whites think this nonsense about some black people.
To answer the question...No black ppl would not have been better off as slaves. If I were still a slave on would not have been able to earn my bachelor's degree. If I were still a slave, I would not have been able get a very good job earning close to a 6 figure salary. If I were still a slave I would not have been able to purchase my first home. If I were still a slave, I would not have been able to date and marry someone outside of race.
It's a shame that even in 2014, me as an individual represents the entire black or African American race, and it goes the other way around as well. Please do not group every last black person. As I'm certain not all whites or Caucasians are "trailer trash" or "rednecks".
Well, now we atleast know the real reason he didn't pay his grazing fees to the govt. He's been wrongly conditioned to think the money goes to blacks on federal assistance. When in reality there are actually more whites on federal assistance.
Wow, this man has done an excellent job in his attempt to establish himself as the textbook definition of a hypocrite. The ignorant racist comments aside, this man has decided that he can suck off the federal teat indefinitely by grazing his animals in publicly owned, taxpayer supported land at a fraction of the cost of what he would have to pay in a true free market system. While doing this he somehow finds it reasonable to decry other "freeloaders". I am truly disgusted that any true conservative would defend this man's rights to run his business on federal land with the support of all US taxpayers. Whether or not this land should be under federal control may be an issue open to debate; however, that must be decided at the legislative and judicial levels. In my book he is no better than those that take advantage of taxpayers and exploit the system. I don't understand how he feels he is above the law because his family has been there for generations; this type of spoiled brat argument doesn't work for most hard-working people in this country and should not work for him. I would hope he would embrace the free market system that this nation is built upon rather than satisfy himself with taking advantage of others.
Here we go blaming black people because he don't want to pay his taxes. Anything to justify him breaking the law. Yet he wants people to pay for his mad cow disease meat.
Hypocrisy and just plain B.S. doesn't get any thicker than this. WOW! What a pathetic excuse for a human being this Cliven guys is!
yeah he probably shouldn't have worded it the way he did and he seems like a huge racist but the kind of racism that's inherent of deep country Texas hicks. One thing he was right about though, is the black community living on government welfare have very little freedom. This type of generational welfare, that was created by a white man's government, is a hard thing to escape. So you have generations of black families being controlled with what the government gives them. This also perpetuates the cultural tradition of joblessness, single mothers with 3 kids, drugs, etc. Thing is, it also sucks to work 50 hours a week and barley be able to afford your rent and food at the same time. The whole system is screwed up.
this criminal and his ilk have been around for a long time, for instance the government days he has been doing the illegal act of letting his cows graze for free for over 20 years, which means he and his family probably have been free loading for even longer. he steals from the people but expects everyone to pay top dollar for the beef he sells which he didnt feed he actually fed for free with peoples land....brilliant, and guess what, there are many more of these loud mouth lieing thieves everywhere, they get away with it because they are WASP's.
His lame comments have nothing to do with the Dems or Reps. The fight for his land is the issue, where he is in the right. His uneducated views on the world have nothing to do with the topic of his land and grazing rights for his cows.
Hmmm... It looks and sounds like Cliven Bundy has "impaired reasoning;" and, as everyone else knows, "you can't fix stupid." Some people are born with certain difficulties and challenges, and Mr. Bundy is one of them...
Absolutely appalling. Reparations NOW...so that Black people can truly begin to heal themselves.
It's like I always say, the worst thing a conservative can do for themselves is to speak their mind.
Thank you Mr. Bundy for showing America the face of those who support you. All you are saying is what the GOP and their feeble minded followers believe. Perry, Paul and Hannity all believe the same thing, but have no guts to say it. Thank you for turning more voters off the to the GOP! Can't wait until 2016 to elect Hillary!