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. andy ordway

    Gotta love how race always gets involved in issues, to blur what is really going on.

    April 24, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  2. Logan Collman

    Whether he has racist views or not, doesn't change the fact that what the BLM was doing was wrong. I don't agree with his ideals on race, but I do believe that no one should be strong armed by the federal government like they had attempted to do to him. Whether your considering the stand taken by many at the bunny ranch, or another down the road, if we stand together we can get what we want. If the federal government isn't fulfilling our wishes, we the people have the right to force their hand, given that they supposedly work for the people.

    April 24, 2014 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  3. jinx9to88

    So I guess Bundy is against farm subsides that farmers and ranchers get. What a hypocrite!!!

    April 24, 2014 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  4. keyser

    Events like this are Russian dash cam videos. ......You always suspect something bad will eventually happen. These days when a character is postured as 'standing up for rights against the tyranny of a government' you can almost always be sure he is some anti Obama guy and it just takes a lil' while for the race hate to come out. By no means does a punk like this represent the vast majority of ranch-for-living workers/owners.

    April 24, 2014 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  5. Beth

    Why must every word that white people write or speak be pleasing to the eyes and ears of minorities?

    April 24, 2014 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  6. SeauxGood

    Let's posit this one question: Does generational dependence on government subsidies create a different type of slavery?

    I may like the way he worded it, but it's an interesting question. Let's something else a thought, though. Which has a greater effect on discouraging minorities from entering the workforce: receiving welfare, or being repeatedly turned down for jobs because of the color of their skin?

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

    In response to 'Vee': I understand your point. The fact is that minorities–African-Americans, Latinos–have historically been underprivileged. However, the population trend is that whites are going to be the minority in a very short time. So, many things are taking place over time. And I'll bet you that in twenty years you are going to see more white folks sitting in front of the government doors looking for subsidies and handouts than 'today's minorities'. Get ready for a big shift, socially and cultural. "For God's sake, man, learn to keep time!"

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

    The man gave an opinion based on what he saw yeas ago and compared the generational dependency on welfare programs while he was growing up to the slavery of history and stated they were BOTH a form of slavery! How many Black Leaders of today and the recent past have said basically the same thing...urging Minorities to educate themselves and learn skills that would allow them to FREE their families from dependence on 'The Government'. They were hailed by people of many races as 'Great Men' because what they told their people was true. Poverty crosses ALL Races and genders and the 'Government' intends to keep as many under their thumb as possible. It is a tool of CONTROL.
    This is more evident today than ever before and anyone who thinks that saying this is 'racist' just because a 'White Man' also sees it and states it openly are the REAL Racists!

    April 24, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  9. Jib76

    Cliven Bundy's comments, especially "I don't recognize the federal government," mirror gun owner comments cited by the Publisher of The Week magazine: "They believe that they have the 'right of revolution.'"

    April 24, 2014 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  10. YoonYoungJo

    Dude seriously? People wonder many things and its fine to have a sense of wonderment. It's another thing to say something, you must know is offense in public. It's like knowing your best friend has all their toes missing on one foot. The difference being asking your friend in private what happened and blasting them at a sports venue over the intercom system. Its one thing to wonder and another to insult.

    April 24, 2014 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  11. Mnsteb

    This is disgusting and shows the self destructive and violent mentality the GOP party tends to encourage.

    April 24, 2014 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  12. Name

    I think they would all be better off back from in their homeland. Et...Africa

    April 24, 2014 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  13. ken

    Why am I not surprised. This from the same guy who was willing to line up women and hide behind them so the Feds would have to shoot the women first.

    April 24, 2014 10:10 pm at 10:10 pm |
  14. rs1201

    He's either fall down drunk or he's lost the little brain he may have had at one time. In either case, he's not newsworthy and the liberal press should really stop making a big deal out of this lunatic's rants.

    April 24, 2014 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  15. are122

    Actually I think he's half right about generations of welfare and fatherless kids...he just doesn't know how to say it correctly,

    April 24, 2014 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  16. wrdtoyrmama

    Mr. Bundy is a believer in Posse Comitatus, the power of the country. He doesn't recognize the federal government. I'd like Senators Paul and Heller to tell us whats so heroic and patriotic about a guy that doesn't believe that the duly elected government of the United States should exist, and why, being elected officials, they'd support folks who believed that.

    April 24, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  17. rooney

    I would like to see the evidence that blacks are the majority on welfare. Its not true its prejudice. yes there are a lot of black people that are out there selling drugs or gang banging. and there are also a lot of whites and Mexican doing the same. I am a proud black man, I have a masters degree I work for 16 hours a day and make 6 figures a year, my kids go on trips to exotic destinations and speak multiple languages. I work hard everyday I have never received a single penny from welfare and I do not judge those who have either. I recognize there are genuine cases. Reality check for all those anti black people on here. People of white race were the largest recipients of welfare for the year 2013 at 69 percent. Know your facts please. those figures are open to the public. Meanwhile this 'lazy black man on welfare' is going on spring break to Buenos Aires with his family tomorrow.! btw thats in Argentina.

    April 24, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  18. jinx9to88

    Yep all these right wing crazies are against blacks for free loading but when this clown freeloads they embrace and call him a patriot. And yes GOPers he has been doing this long before Obama so don't say it Obama fault. What a joke!!

    April 24, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  19. dabve

    Freedom of speech is freedom of speech even if you disagree. He's not right but he may be on the land issue.

    April 24, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  20. Dorothy

    Manure happens routinely around the Bundy farm. Unfortunately, our city boys, all dressed up in their finest cowboy regalia (armaments included), just didn't see it until it was too late.

    April 24, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  21. Sandra

    I agree with Vee. I am so SICK of any reference to an African American being called anything less than those two words, as being a racist!! Bundy actually said a lot of truths. Blacks would rather collect government money than work, but so do whites...Blacks do seem to populate the prisons, but so do whites. I could go on but one thing is for sure. This is between the politicians and the news stations!! Bundy is just the scapegoat. Our government sucks and everyone knows it. Bundy is just standing up for his rights!! I would stand beside him anytime.

    April 24, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  22. shellbell

    Bundy has survived on government subsidy his entire life. Feeding your cattle for free is the same as taking welfare.

    April 24, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  23. navaJohn

    This guy and his "militia" are a bunch Republican parasites.

    April 24, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  24. richard

    It's interesting how CNN wasn't really covering this guy until he said something racist they could hang their hat on. Typical.

    April 24, 2014 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  25. Jerry

    I tell you. All of you rich people have so many problems. My my my.

    April 24, 2014 10:16 pm at 10:16 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