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.

[twitter-follow screen_name='LACaldwellDC'] [twitter-follow screen_name='KilloughCNN'] [twitter-follow screen_name='psteinhausercnn'][twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker']

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. Jayakumar

    The federal government by letting him go free is setting a bad example for future anarchists. He and his coterie pointed assault rifles (another reason why guns should be banned from crazy people) at federal agents. That would be enough for them to arrest anyone in this country for assault on a federal official. Pointing a gun is assault according to law. Why is this man walking around free? Are the laws different for some people and not so for others?

    April 24, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  2. Jimmy

    Enough all ready! Stop while your ahead. People are allow to their, opinon wrong or wright.Then again he's probably off his medications, he didn't say didn't like black. He observed some behavior obscured and unfactual.

    April 24, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  3. Venon Cherrywood

    I totally LOVE when republicans defends these wing-nut & tea party extremists. The republicans will never win a Presidential election again in our lifetimes now that they are the minority and continue dying off. Any feeble outreach attempts they make to the Latino or Black communities backfires like a hillbilly's rifle when they defend knuckle-dragger comments like these. They are too stupid to realize that they are their own undoing.

    April 24, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  4. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    Bundy = Welfare Rancher

    April 24, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  5. tim

    Notice how Faux Blues and the GOP came out to dfend the racist. The nut jobs with guns came also.

    April 24, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  6. Roger Stapp

    Do not try and say that all Republicans support his comments. CNN does not have a clue who most Republicans are. I do not support Bundy's or Reid's statements. The real racist baiters are at CNN. You will not intimidate me or millions of other Republicans who will vote this year to fire Harry Reid. I am proud to be a member of the party that freed the slaves.

    April 24, 2014 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  7. tim

    Fix news and the GOP live this racist thug.

    April 24, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  8. Kimo

    Bundy, like many of his ilk, seem to think they are living in the 19th century. The idea of freedom to some people is the freedom for them to do whatever the heck they want regardless of the effect on others.

    April 24, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  9. dplandry

    All is said was that govt. has held the black man down. He's correct, but they're too blinded to see it.

    April 24, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  10. Joe

    The ironic part is this guy has also been mooching off the federal government for decades now, he is in fact surviving on a different style of government welfare.

    April 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  11. Nate

    No wonder why the ranching/farming industry is going down the gutter! Embreds like this guy are running those industries!!!

    April 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  12. Argyle

    Funny how Bundy speaks about blacks living off the dole, yet its ok for him to use federal land at no expense.

    April 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  13. dina

    What is most shocking about the Bundy affair, is the right using him to actually encourage armed insurrection against the U.S. Government. - and Fox news has also taken part in this by holding Bundy up as a hero. They don't even give a fig about Bundy, they are just looking for a fight. This is how far will the right go to promote their politics? It's disgusting and certainly unpatriotic. We are Americans first, not Democrats or Republicans.

    April 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  14. TSRVT

    Time to take out the right-wing trash.

    April 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  15. Mark

    Bundy's a criminal with a gun. He should be treated as such now.

    April 24, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "Actually, it was the federal government that "risked inciting violence.""

    Oh? Do tell. This should be good. Was the fed gov't the ones who threatened to shoot anyone who tried to confiscate the cattle pursuant to lawful court orders and judgments? Were they the ones who spent 20+ ignoring laws, regulations and court orders and judgments for him to pay his fees? Were they the ones who gathered up a group of ARMED anti-gov't protesters and continued to make those threats? Were they the ones who threatened to use women and children as human shields? You're so full of it. You don't pay, they confiscate. It's the way it works. Lawfully trying to carry out the confiscation of his cattle because he continues to refuse to pay and obey the law is not "inciting violence." Refusal to obey and allow it while making threats of violence towards anyone trying to carry out that duty IS "inciting violence." Go read more Ayn Rand comic books. What a joke.

    April 24, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  17. MichaelF

    I don't know about the rest of you, but i like my racists up front about their racism. I hate the one's the lie to your face and then stab you in the back. If you are racist, own up to it. don't put on a hood, stand up and shout to the world what you are.

    April 24, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  18. CrashMan

    I love how this guy says he doesn't recognize the United States government, but rides around waving the flag. Typical right-wing hypocrite.

    April 24, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Everyone now believes you can teach an old dog new tricks! Old folks don't know and/or don't care about being politically correct. Instead of looking at the total message the man is being condemned for the delivery. I agree that a government check with no return on investment is a waste of money, to compound it by generations is a multiplied injustice to the tax payers footing the bill. Mr. Bundy, I believe, is wondering the same thing. How is this waste helping the recipients have a better life?

    April 24, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  20. g1911

    some people are just not as elequent at putting their feelings, or lets just call it politically correct. However I think Mr. Bundy has a point. Are they better off working ( gaining self esteem, integrity, work ethic) or are they better off without those most human and important qualities they gave up to take government subsidies instead?

    April 24, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  21. krippendorf

    Gee, ultra-libertarian right wing-nut who breaks the law and threatens violence so that he can steal from the public lies about his family history and turns out to be a flaming racist. What a surprise. Joe the Plumber, meet Cliven the Rancher: coming soon on a Tea Bagger ticket near you.

    April 24, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  22. elctronyc

    You lost all my respect when you said that you wonder if a person's life will be better being a slave or not. I don't know why people think that slivery of any type is still "ok"
    It you live from the government you are slave but of your own desires, not because someone else say so. If you were a slave in a cotton field was because someone bought you and treat you like animal against your will.

    April 24, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  23. Dert McGert

    I guarantee if the "militia" had been black, they'd all be dead now....

    April 24, 2014 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  24. david saint

    the elephant in the room is the fact that Bundy's family didnt own the land as he claimed back before the BLM. In fact, census records show the family members he claimed were on that land were in fact in Bundyville AZ at the time and didnt move there for decades later! While I dont side with either party here, ALL relevant facts need to be considered.

    April 24, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  25. Roger Stapp

    Bundy's family did not take the land from the Indians. The Mexican's did. They owned this territory up until 1861.

    April 24, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62