April 24th, 2014
12:00 PM ET
8 years ago

Politicians denounce Bundy's racist remarks

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."

Another Fox News host, Greta Van Susteren, wrote on her blog Thursday morning that she condemns Bundy's comments.

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."


Filed under: Dean Heller • Nevada • Rand Paul
soundoff (1,537 Responses)
  1. JennySue

    Not sure what his comments have to do with whether the federal government has the right to steal his cattle and shoot them. Or the Federal Government's co-opting of so much land.

    April 24, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  2. Vince

    I was waiting for the Tea Party in Mr. Bundy to come out. Didn't have to wait very long.

    April 24, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    Harry from Va Beach

    For those who say the federal government overreacted. The guy threatened to use weapons against anyone who came to take his herd. The guy refused to pay taxes and grazing fees for 20 years. He loss 4 court battles. He was in the wrong for 20 years. The government for 20 years tried to resolve this peacefully, If that's not restraint I don't know what is. Then the militia made it worse. They brought more guns into the situation. So the government had to protect its people and brought more guns and armor. I am ignoring the fact about his racist comments. I am just speaking about legality here. Every farmer and rancher that uses federal land pays a fee for its use. This is common practice. This guy refused to pay. He was in the wrong.
    The government did show restraint.
    Conservatives should be singing the praises of Eric Holder.
    Had this occured 20 years ago. I think Janet Reno would have smoked them out.

    April 24, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  4. Anonymous

    Name calling? Really CNN / Obama / NWO, you have to resort to calling him a racist now?

    That's right, you do whatever you can to make him look bad, and the poor government oligarchy to be the victims.

    April 24, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  5. Tom

    Notice how the cowardly feds do not ever have a confrontation with the mexican cartells who operate in our national parks. Now that is racit.

    April 24, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  6. Jhn Y

    How dare Bundy speak the real Republican Party philosophy out loud?

    April 24, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  7. boof

    a look into the mind of probably half (or more) of the republican base.

    April 24, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  8. Jose V.

    Many of us Republicans simply knew – not that it took much brain storming – that it was simply a matter of time before this nit revealed his true deranged, demented self. It never fails to amaze how some leaders of our party can be such zonked-out imbeciles in not being more cautious with whom the peg themselves with.

    April 24, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  9. Steve Handley

    Bundy sums up the Republican ideology. When they get called out they're quick to back away. Good luck in 2016, those that live in 1916!

    April 24, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  10. mrl

    He may not have the best words – but what he is saying is right – and has been said by many... the average poor black person today is far more of a slave to the government handout – and far less happy than they were as real slaves on the plantations. At least then they had maintained their family unit, and raised their children to work and be productive. Now we see the highest abortion rate among the blacks (over 50% in large cities). We see a massive number of young black males going in the inner city going into gangs and into jail because their hands are idle and their family no longer is a unit. So you may not like the words he uses as he is not a great speaker, but what he is saying is reality.

    He should have stayed away from the topic though – as blacks do not like to hear the truth, and liberals rely on keeping them enslaved to the government dole.

    April 24, 2014 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  11. someguy

    He may be a racist but its irrelevent to the issue at hand. Dont let the media distract you from whats important here.

    April 24, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  12. WHat In the world

    Am I to understand that only Black people use the welfare system? People are acting like that is the case.

    April 24, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  13. someguy


    he never said that quit making up lies

    April 24, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  14. Ron

    The Feds are gathering and have brought in hired guns. We are more likely than not headed into a military confrontation – the first since WACO. Keep in mind that Obama’s head of the Justice Department, Eric Holder now Attorney General, called the shots on WACO back then. He got away with it before – why not again? There is a hope that if enough people show up the Feds will stand-down. The likelihood of the Feds ever backing down is highly unlikely, The Federal Government is severely disconnected from the people and views anyone who stands up to them as a criminal and domestic terrorist. This is merely a dress rehearsal for the next 5 years that we face – a rising confrontation between the people and the government.

    April 24, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  15. Lynne Buchanan

    So don't stand up for anyone who is being over-run by federal employees because later they may make comments that seem racist - yeah. And FOX NEWS did not paint him as a hero. Some commentators were sympathetic to the situation.
    Trying to listen to Bundy, I've been challenged to understand what he is saying. Most of his sentences start with one thing and then the rest doesn't connect.
    However, I think he was trying to say that being enslaved to one thing or another thing still means one is not "free."
    The rancher is not articulate; neither does he stay on subject when speaking so it's a bit hard to know if he is rambling and pondering or if he is racist. I don't know why he even made the statement. I do know that it was the way the BLM handled the situation that got most people enraged - not that Bundy is in the right, necessarily.

    April 24, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  16. rl

    Jumped on the WRONG bandwagon, didn't you right winger nuts. Of course most of the ones who rushed to his side wanting to fight the Federal Government completely agree with Bundy. Why does a LIBERAL like me have guns and a carry permit? To protect myself and my family from people like Bundy, and his fellow haters.

    April 24, 2014 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  17. larry David

    Another reason to hate corrupt showbiz oriented "politicians". How is the house investigation into Reid's Chinese solar farm funny business going? Maybe CNN can remember to cover that too lol

    April 24, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  18. Altair Dafydd

    So a guy who has been mooching off is criticizing others for allegedly being freeloaders?

    April 24, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |

    He's REALLY their hero now like the Duck Dynasty guy.

    April 24, 2014 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  20. bcw

    This is case of the kettle calling the pot BLACK. Bundy is a White, Racist, Freeloading, Hypocritical, Un-patriotic Old Welfare Cowboy. I wonder how many folks in this country share Bundy's view of the Federal Government and Slavery in the 21st century. Using women as human shields?! What the cowards they are.

    April 24, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  21. tynkyrbelle

    Seriously, is this REALLY shocking, coming from a conservative?

    NO, it is not. It's typical.

    April 24, 2014 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  22. jayb18

    A lot of blacks a racist too, nobody cares CNN.

    April 24, 2014 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  23. giancarlo

    When are people going to wake and stop pretending. The Tea Party and all of their followers are all Racist or worst KKK members. They represent a movement that is trying to keep the white race the dominant race in this country. The Tea Party is seeing the writing on the wall that this country is becoming more diverse and that is very frightening for these racist terrorist.

    April 24, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  24. rapierpoint

    No, Phil's comments were not in the same vein as Bundy's, not matter what the DNC tell you. Also, have we come to the point that you can't be against an injustice being done to a citizen if he or she makes a racist statement or is not PC? Or does being labeled racist strip one of any rights at all?

    April 24, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  25. jason

    The irony is...one moocher who has been a moocher since last 30 years...is hating other moochers who have been moochers for 5-6 years

    April 24, 2014 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
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