April 24th, 2014
12:00 PM ET
7 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. mike wagner

    wait... he is talking but what was the question??? Was it.... What are your thoughts on the current state of the african American population? or was it... What is on your mind?? I don't think I saw or heard that in this clip on MSN. Why is that? Anytime I hear a response and not the question I am savvy enough to ask myself "what was the original question." Unfortunately I don't hear it hear on this clip.... and I wonder why...

    April 24, 2014 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  2. Mimi

    Bundy is a deadbeat rancher, unwilling to pay the American people for the use of their land. Cattle degrade the land and make it unfit for wildlife and grazing. It is time for him to pay the American people what he owes them and stop calling himself a patriot.

    As to FauxNews, their name says it all. Their rants are for profits not real news or real discussions.

    April 24, 2014 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  3. kenyaman

    Ironic that it takes a cattle rancher from Nevada to tell it like it is...To hell with all the politicians...This old geezer makes sense and it is resounding sense. Blacks with their degenerate ways have cost this country dearly. They should go back to acting like they picked cotton. They are too lazy to actually pick it. They would all be better off sent back to Africa!

    April 24, 2014 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |

    Another Arpaio in the making....a folk hero for the bitter.

    April 24, 2014 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  5. Tyrone Shoes

    Wow. There's an Ebola outbreak in Africa and THIS is front page news? What a bunch of race batters CNN has turned into.

    April 24, 2014 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |

    Another folk hero for the bitter

    April 24, 2014 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  7. Biff Omney

    While I agree that Bundy's racist remarks handed Democrats a weapon, they don't need it. Bundy was already wrong from every angle. The sum of his argument seems to be "I don't recognize the federal government, so I'm not paying them for using their land." That argument would get laughed out of court, which is where the government will take this.

    April 24, 2014 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  8. joe

    Too bad this rancher doesn't get out too much. His comment was obviously ignorant as every race has its own hard workers, and lazy people. But again, I see where some people can blame the government for providing the hand outs instead of an education and a job. A handout is an easy effortless thing that consequently breaks your spirit, self-worth, and willingness to be inventive. Hence, permanent alimony for people that can work and chose not to because they rather take on someone else's paycheck. As the article says, we have fallen off the deep end with laws that promote laziness. No wonder we have such a deficit.

    April 24, 2014 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  9. Joe in Dallas

    Didn't anybody FOX that if you sleep with dogs you get fleas?

    April 24, 2014 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  10. FredKelly

    So, since Bundy has antiquated views on race, does that mean that his fight with the BLM is now lost? I'm not completely clear on the rules regarding ad hominems.

    April 24, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  11. Dan Guerriero

    Will somebody on this board please tell me what group ethnic or otherwise does not have prejudice in it.??

    April 24, 2014 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  12. Jeff

    Better to let people think your stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

    April 24, 2014 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  13. DH

    I am really disappointed in this society. I can not believe some of these comments. We are so screwed up. I have no hope for this human race...good luck to us all!!!

    April 24, 2014 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  14. Guest

    This man doesn't deserve the forum used to display his comments. As an african american, I am highly offended by his remarks. His comments only serve notice that, even in 2014, racism still exists. My ancestors were slaves. My parents, though they did not have much money or education, worked hard to instill in my brother and sisters that an education is important, and to succeed in life, you must work hard and believe in God. My parents were never on food stamps or a government subsidy. They both worked hard for what they achieved. As a result, my siblings and I all have degrees, with two of us possessing advanced degrees. We are all employed and have never been in jail or depended on anyone for a handout.

    April 24, 2014 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  15. rs


    Sure it does. He was stealing from each and every American for 20 years by not paying his duly owed grazing fees. He is the best example of a "welfare queen" there is. A Republican caught committing a $ million crime.
    Like Jesse Jackson, Jr.?
    Gee, did anyone call Mr. Jackson a "patriot"?- No.
    Did Mr. Jackson (or anyone affiliated with him) call out armed thugs to prevent his arrest? -No.

    Otherwise your observation is speck-on.

    April 24, 2014 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
  16. Nanners1

    Stupid is as stupid does. It was only a matter of time.

    April 24, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  17. Jack

    Yea yea yea. Try and talk your way out of this one. Besides he owes more to the govt for using public resources than 99.9999% of the people on public assistance ever will.

    April 24, 2014 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  18. JJ in DC

    Mr. Bundy's position on his right to graze his cattle on Federal land are exactly in line with his views on slavery. Anyone who supported his position on grazing, would logically have to support his position on slavery.

    Anyone who tries to say that they support one of his potions and not the other is either an idiot or afraid to have other people actually know what they think.

    April 24, 2014 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  19. Resonation Of Truth

    He speaks the truth and everyone calls him a racist! So, being truthful is racist....hmmm?

    April 24, 2014 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  20. Tom Trouve

    The Republican Party of 2014. Lost all their senses, degenerated, and a joke. So many of us believe in some conservative principles, but yet are left with no choice but to vote for whatever democratic political program is before us, because we have no choice!

    April 24, 2014 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  21. TomGI

    Bundy just doesn't know when to shut up. Crash and burn geezer hayseed.

    April 24, 2014 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  22. ghc

    Another Arpaio, another folk hero for the bitter

    April 24, 2014 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  23. Amy

    Old people, wth...This just proves we need younger people as elected officials. Do not just vote politicians back in office because they have always been there. Look at the issues and vote on those.

    April 24, 2014 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  24. Serious Truth

    Despite being a Conservative, from the start I always said this guy was a loser. Nothing more than a tax-evader. Please do not try to lump all conservatives with this fool.

    April 24, 2014 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  25. Bob

    Wonder what political party he belongs to? Try GOP

    April 24, 2014 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
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