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. cobra

    What irritates the left wing is the fact Bundy is right

    April 24, 2014 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  2. Eagle6421

    What does his racist remarks have to do with the over reaction of the BLM regarding some cows who have been grazing on this land since 1880? What the BLM did is equivalent of sending a SWAT team to issue a warrant for overdue parking tickets. It is just like the FBI invading a 91 year old man's home because he has a collection of relics. CNN gave this story little attention until the rancher made the racial statement. THEN and only then did it become a story. They use his statement to whip out the broad brush and paint anyone who objected to the over reaction of the Federal Government a racist. This is not journalism but opportunism to spread the liberal narrative that everyone who disagrees with liberals are racist. This is weak minded and lacks intellect.

    April 24, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  3. dc

    "Vee, you can make all the excuses you want for Bundy but Everyone knows Bundy is racist"

    MaryM – That "Everyone" is an ignorant statement stated by reverse racist mob rule. It is very easy to quickly knee jerk in the "popular" direction instead of looking at the Bundy statement's true meaning. He did a lousy job of getting his point across, but he still had a non-racist point.

    April 24, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  4. Walter

    The ignorance here is tremendous. I earned a Masters degree and I'm from a relatively poor inner city community. It's ironic that my clients are mostly white males faking mental illness for disability benefits. I guess whites cans be slaves to the system as well. Meth labs all over S.C...drug cartels in P.A. high schools....read the news...a Caucasian male is about to thrust us into WW3...white males historically have an asterisks by their name whenever they have come into contact with other civilizations.....white males shoot up schools, theaters, and malls.....don't like it when your race is generalized DO YOU?

    April 24, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  5. Just sayin too....

    @herky01: sorry but there is never an excuse for bad behavior...age and wisdom when working in concert, increases our level of tolerance towards those who are different from us..not the opposite....if the older folks are behaving badly, what hope is there for the children??

    April 24, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  6. joeazona

    The USA is now classified as an oligarchy. This is a fact proven by multiple universities!! Please wake up. America..!!

    April 24, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  7. Hank

    Sounds like Cliven is stating facts to me.

    April 24, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  8. joeazona

    The USA is now classified as an oligarchy. This is a fact proven by multiple universities!!

    April 24, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  9. Fritz Hohenheim

    Can somebody explain what his views on race have to do with the matter at hand which is grazing rights and Federal Government vs Cattleranchers?

    April 24, 2014 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  10. ug

    Who cares what he said...the feds did him wrong.

    April 24, 2014 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  11. G_Edwards

    Wow. Just wow.

    Is he a racist? Yup.

    Does that mean any and everything associated with him is evil? No – but that's the mindset of today's Democrat.


    April 24, 2014 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  12. copanut

    William Bresch said:
    "I agree with him. Black People have been conditioned not to work. the ghetto's and slums are horrible with what we have done to them. its not racist, its called GREED on the part of the Business People not the Government who are the business people."

    Bill, here's the problem. It IS racist when you say "black people have been conditioned..." You could say poor people, or the underclass, or some other nonracial term, and that would be okay, because I can assure you that your generalization above applies to people of all skin shades. It's not as if it is genetically specific to black people. When you think of these "conditioned" people, you visualize black people in your mind's eye, and then you verbalize it the way you did and the way this clown did, and show yourself to be racist.

    You could acknowledge that this is a proportionately bigger problem for black people for historical reasons. That would not be racist because it is simply a fact. But to state it as you have done is simply racist, as well as pathetic and ridiculous, end of story.

    And by the way, "horrible with what we have done to them" is also racist. Who is the "we" you are talking about? Is that some kind of white guilt? My skin is as pale as it comes, but I never oppressed anybody and nobody in my family tree (which goes back to the 11th century) ever owned a slave.

    It's time to leave the "we" and "them" thinking in history's dustbin. If we (all of us) acknowledge income, education, and opportunity disparities and work to eliminate them, then we (all of us) can move forward a step.

    April 24, 2014 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  13. Dave

    Although poorly articulated, everyone knows what he was trying to convey. Btw...the government isn't supposed to to be in the business of owning unused land. There...back on topic...

    April 24, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  14. cacique

    The truth applies to all, and it kind of hurts. So let's try not to be a part of the context this Bundy guy describes.

    April 24, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  15. KobraKai7474

    I am shocked.... SHOCKED.... to learn that another tea party hero is nothing more than a hypocritical racist.

    April 24, 2014 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  16. Ron Curran

    It was only a matter of time before a person who belongs to a religion that let minorities join in 1970 has a racial remark. "Are they better off on government subsidies." Mr Bundy is looking for a government subsidy. The ranchers on the BLM land next to my house are more than willing to pay the $1.35 per month for each cattle in their herd. Why aren't you?

    April 24, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  17. taffylinden

    I can't understand people thinking Cliven's remarks are not racist. This is how he sees Black Americans, this stereotype that everyone of African descent is lazy? (I'm sure Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain would disagree with that one.) They're ALL unemployed? And his only suggested option is "picking cotton"? Even wondering if Blacks were better off as slaves is racist: it buys into the old antebellum Southern argument that Africans were better off as slaves than they would have been back in African villages, because, the bigot thinks, slaves were always well cared-for and happy in captivity (a myth)–too bad they wanted that little luxury called freedom badly enough to risk their lives for it. And, of course, the stereotype continues, all African communities are poverty-stricken.

    April 24, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    Wait – the federal government OWNS 87% of Nevada?! that equates to 96,193 square miles.

    April 24, 2014 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  19. Arrgghhh

    This whole thing is so lame I can't think of anything to say except, "Thank you, media, on both sides, for taking our minds off the real news."

    April 24, 2014 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  20. Manuel

    He vocabulary is a sign of his age NOT his intelligence, and that is a great question, is it better to be a slave or a slave of the government! Of course neither is preferred but regardless their lives are not theirs when the government completely controls it!

    April 24, 2014 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  21. Saboth

    I don't expect many conservatives will be back pedaling on their support for him, as most of them feel the same way about minorities.

    April 24, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  22. James

    Rand Paul distances himself early in the presidential game by pushing away teaparty racist beliefs held by a large amount of racist who support them. We know who you are Randy and now your voters know you wont carry that hard line to DC. Look at what happened to Mitt when he got caught running down the poor.

    April 24, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  23. Mark

    Why does CNN have to wait until something completely unrelated to the standoff before they make this story a big issue?

    April 24, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  24. David Wallenstein

    Why doesn't Bundy stick to taking care of his cattle (who are likely nicer and smarter than he is) instead of making a public display of his ignorance?

    April 24, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  25. Syndrome Zed

    Here's an idea – dump Bovine Encephalitis (Mad Cow)-infected cow meal particles all over the grass Bundy's cattle use. It won't hurt the tortoise, and may or may not hurt the militiamen, but it would certainly get rid of the cattle.

    April 24, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 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