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. carolstrick

    I saw how those pols stood behind him when he declared that there is no United States, that he does not recognize our nation, but only recognizes his state. And I saw how he flashed the flag of that nation around to show how manly he was since he had no other way of doing so. I remember how he was proven to be a scofflaw of rather large standing who tried to lie his way out of difficulty—and how certain pols were cheering him on. We'll all remember, come election time.

    April 24, 2014 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  2. MoodyFoodie

    People who jumped to his defense should take a look in the mirror. Is anyone really surprised, though?? It's great, shows the mentality of these people, and now we see the real reason he / they refused to recognize the US govt.

    April 24, 2014 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  3. BradyBoy

    Why on earth was anybody ever ON the Bundy bandwagon. It was obvious from the start that this guy was a fanatical scofflaw who was stealing graving on land he doesn't own. And his followers threatened to shoot BLM officials doing their jobs.

    These Republicans should be deeply ashamed.

    April 24, 2014 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  4. Lou50

    Cliven keep the faith buddy: Illegitimi non carborundum

    April 24, 2014 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  5. Name

    Dose he, know about all of the death and destruction his people have done from genocide to slavery

    April 24, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  6. RealTruth

    Bundy is a liar! Not much has to be said after that statement. His claims are totally false and he is going to prison, big time!

    April 24, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  7. my10cents

    Looks like all the wheels fell of that GOP "Bundy as a Patriot" bandwagon at the same time. The real irony of this article is the while Bundy is airing his beliefs on how black are living off the government; Bundy, by not paying his taxes and using government land illegally, is also doing the same thing. Perhaps somebody should explain the "glass house" idiom to Bundy.

    April 24, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  8. Wiz

    "I supported Ted Bundy because he was being assaulted without due process"

    Without due process? If you don't consider 20 years of court hearings and appeals to be due process, what exactly DO you consider to be due process?

    Just curious how you reached that conclusion…

    – Wiz

    April 24, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  9. Walter Harold Marlin

    If you believe in biological inheritance (genetics) much the same as different breeds of dogs having genetic mutations bread into the dogs sum tasks abilities superior to other breeds. Do we home erectus need to come to terms that all people are not created equal. When an executive stops at the fast food restaurant with is or her family that person handling their food is the most important person in their lives at that moment in time. Is that person important. Most definitely.

    April 24, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  10. Craig

    And the Circus begins....

    April 24, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  11. Mi2scent

    For all of you thinking that this was taken out of context, take a hard look at yourselves. No editor in Hollywood, could make this not look racist. This is why the politicians who have somewhat of a understanding of right and wrong (mostly they willfully chose wrong) are distancing themselves from this.

    April 24, 2014 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  12. Ken

    Just like Paula Deen...both are products of their generations. That said, I do believe the truth hurts and when that happens...out comes the race card to deflect the criticism.

    April 24, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  13. Kinning

    Just like Paula Deen...both are products of their generations. That said, I do believe the truth hurts and when that happens...out comes the race card to deflect the criticism.

    April 24, 2014 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  14. Marnie's girl

    It's totally amazing to me that people like Mr. Bundy still exist and are still so ignorant. So very sad. As for the GOP, well I think their actions speak far louder than words....and they still wonder why they can't get the average American behind them???? Amazing.....

    April 24, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  15. Blah blah


    What he said was worded terrible and shouldn't have been spoken. HOWEVER, I think you need to re-check your statistics...

    Welfare Demographics
    Percent of recipients who are white 38.8 %
    Percent of recipients who are black 39.8 %
    Percent of recipients who are Hispanic 15.7 %
    Percent of recipients who are Asian 2.4 %
    Percent of recipients who are Other 3.3 %

    I think your statistics come from Hispanics being pushed into the 'white' population which really shouldn't be done when you are attempting to show statistics like this. Also, it's worth noting that white people make a much bigger percentage of the population making the true wellfare statistics much graver for the black community. This needs to be changed and I think he was right when he said a lot of them are slaves to the state.

    April 24, 2014 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  16. Ian

    Apologizing is the best the dumbing down GOP do best...

    April 24, 2014 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  17. Wendyjo

    How is C. Bundy, a man who has leached off state and federal governments for years, any better that black Americans he accuses of being dependent on the federal government? The big difference is that the latter do it honestly.

    April 24, 2014 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  18. Luek

    How many politicians have visited Mr. Steven Utash in the hospital? No hate crime there ! And the one punch Polar Bear hunters are still at their pastime I presume?

    April 24, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  19. DapperDon

    He's a million dollars behind on his grazing rights payment. How can he object to government welfare for the poor when he's STEALING grazing rights. That would be like stealing the tea instead of dumping it in Boston Harbor. Not very heroic in my book. And a racist besides.

    April 24, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  20. Pinolera

    When slavery was abolished, blacks were not given much opportunity. You can't take away people from their culture, and their way of living, bring them to a strange land, put them to work under whips and chain and then set them free without giving them something to fall back on and that was education, work, etc. instead they were discriminated by whites and that continues down to our day to the point that there had to be something put in place called "Affirmative Action" to ensure blacks were given opportunities same as whites. Look at what education and work has done for many people who do want to prosper? What excuse did whites have that didn't prosper? Where they lazy? There are some that are and that is in every race. The welfare system was created for whites and to help whites way back in the day and now that system is for everyone. So, instead of calling blacks lazy or this one lazy or that one lazy, why not give someone who wants to work an opportunity?

    April 24, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  21. daman

    who cares... this is only in the news so the left can try,as they always do, to create a link between race and republicans..

    April 24, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  22. rudy

    Nonsense. The man expresses his opinion namely that many blacks are not better off now a days. How can this be even childish let alone discriminatory and a racial slur. Are the blacks freeloaders? Some are like many others whether Caucasians or green people for that matter.

    April 24, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  23. Paul

    He is just a closeted welfare queen who doesn't know history and how slavery ripped families apart. Maybe it is time to take him off of "his" land for not paying taxes and assign him a public housing apartment in North Las Vegas so that he can really see what happens there before opening his big fat mouth again.

    April 24, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  24. Normandy

    Bundy himself hasnt paid taxes for years and he dares call others lazy? shiftless? shameful and the gOP continues to lower itself into politcial oblivion...

    April 24, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  25. Anonymous


    Welcome to America – where you can't voice your opinion anymore, else you will be persecuted...

    Mr Bundy exercised his right to voice his opinion and we are exercising our First Amendment right to disagree with him. By calling it persecution, you are whining. To put it another way, when you voice your opinion, be prepared to take personal responsibility and own it!


    April 24, 2014 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
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