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. idiotsabound

    reid said it all - the rancher's the biggest moocher ever - but extremist don't realize they hate what they are.

    April 24, 2014 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  2. conoclast

    There are SOME republicans who don't think Bundy's comments about blacks are 'reprehensible' at all and in fact fully embrace them. It's just that they're maybe urban-savvy enough to keep their mouths shut.

    April 24, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  3. cfarmer

    As you read through these posted comments it is apparent that a plague of ignorance is sweeping this country. Unfortunately, Democrats and Republicans alike are infected. Anyone who twist around the opinion this guy is expressing and tries to turn it into hateful racism is a racist also and probably has an agenda that is not good for the long term welfare of this country.

    April 24, 2014 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  4. bozodaclown

    Nothing like good old fashioned egg on the face to seal the deal....

    April 24, 2014 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  5. tayllor1234

    Bundy speaks the truth. Dems fought a civil war to keep their precious slaves and lost to Lincoln and the Republicans then the Dems enslaved the monorities in public housing and welfare all over again.
    It is what it is.

    April 24, 2014 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  6. Logical Leandro

    Righties, you have been owning this guy for the past couple weeks. You still own him today. Sorry. That's how this little game works.

    April 24, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  7. Brianb2251

    This is being taken way out of context. He meant that with welfare and social policies the way they are they are turning people into slaves and he wonders if today with the govt. exerting control we they it is and stripping freedoms away if we are really any better off.

    April 24, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  8. PaminIA

    Since the GOP learned nothing from Sarah Palin (Ie NOT vetting her) This is going to keep happening. Check your mouth piece before you put him/her on the pedestal.

    April 24, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  9. Andaz5

    Oops Tea Party true colors come out... abandon ship!!!

    April 24, 2014 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  10. Bruce Kranzler

    Has anyone researched the government subsidies, (welfare, etc.), of Cliven's 14 children and 50 grandchildren. Oh, I realize that many Mormons see this leaching off the government as 'starving the beast' . His Republican supporters want to speed the process by drowning it in the bathtub. How much further do we have to go into this American dream to realize its a nightmare?

    April 24, 2014 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  11. Patrick Portland

    This gent is just asking a question – a valid one at that. As would be expected, CNN will make it a race issue. When I see CNN drag Al Charlatan acorss the coals for some of the gems that have left his mouth or Spike Lee's racist rantings, then I'll agree this is a legitimate conversation. Anyone want to guess how much mileage CNN gets out of this one?

    April 24, 2014 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  12. glauber

    I've been waiting for this shoe to drop. And it did.

    April 24, 2014 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  13. solitcon

    he knows he is a bigot. remember right after emancipation most of the skilled labor were black folks. Imagine what kind of economy it would have turned out to be if you such a massive work force now being paid. They would have taken over America. So white folks boycotted them. president had no choice but to create a welfare system to use the fed to pay this huge working force. read up boyz.

    April 24, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  14. JaesonSS

    Give a man enough rope, and he'll lynch himself?

    April 24, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  15. Big Bruh

    Sorry, too late. You all and WE knew he thought like this. I never needed him to actually say it.

    April 24, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  16. gary

    Yup, here comes the smear campaign that always follows any person who stands up to the system!
    Go watch TMZ, it's about the level you deserve!

    April 24, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  17. badgerbay

    I totally understand where he is coming from.

    He is a bigot, and has no idea what blacks went through during slavery. Apparently, he thinks it was a picnic.

    It really doesn't take a lot of intelligence and creativity to imagine that being treated as property, to be sold and traded and to have no rights, would be an absolute nightmare!

    April 24, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  18. FreedomJunkie

    This Guy is CONTROLLED OPPOSITION !! Basically the Bundy guy CREATES a Ruckus with his ARMED Rebellion against BLM and later SELF INCRIMINATES himself with this Racist Views , essentially Nullifying his own position for his supporters AND have everyone Rally the OUTCOME which the Govt wanted anyway. This is lot like the movie "Promised Land" , LIFE IMITATING ART !!!

    April 24, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  19. TheSadTruth

    This doesn't prove the Republicans who initially supported Bundy were racist, but it DOES confirm that Republicans will abandon someone who they agree with in principle because they are afraid of guilt by association. It's just like the NRA- EVERYONE is a responsible gun owner until they do something that makes guns look bad, and then the NRA magically has never heard of that person.

    Republicans don't mind being racist, hating the middle class, whatever, but they hate to be caught being those things.

    April 24, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  20. Erick

    NOTHING of what Bundy has said was racist, NOTHING. In fact its the other way around.

    April 24, 2014 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  21. rrjkr

    A guy like Bundy making a racist remark is about as suprising as ice melting in the Nevada desert in July.

    April 24, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  22. Pat

    Why would senators Paul and Heller even bother to defend him since they are federal employees and he doesn't even recognize them as existing.

    April 24, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  23. gary

    PS….Vee, your right on the money!

    April 24, 2014 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  24. Eardley Ham Woodbury, MN

    Bundy has been stealing grass via cow mouths for years and owes the US over a million dollars in grazing fees. Besides being a racist thug, he is a criminal. Go back, round up all his cattle, take them to market and send the money to the US Treasury.

    April 24, 2014 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  25. Jim

    He's an old fellow in an isolated part of the midwest, honestly I'd be more surprised if he WASN'T racist.

    I'm sure 50 years from now, younger folks will be shaking their heads at the appalling things said by the generation that is now offended by this old guy's comments.

    April 24, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
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