Both supporters and detractors of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy on Thursday harshly criticized racist remarks he made about “the Negro” as he wondered if African-Americans getting government support might be “better off as slaves.”
The incendiary comments made to Bundy’s supporters added more fuel to the controversy surrounding the Bureau of Land Management’s attempts to round up his more than 500 “trespass cattle” because the rancher owes more than $1 million in grazing fees and has refused to pay BLM for the past 20 years.
“Mr. Bundy’s statement is far beyond the boundaries of decency, and is disgusting and offensive,” said GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, who criticized the BLM’s tough tactics during the roundup. “In no way does it reflect the values of Nevadans.”
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller’s spokeswoman slammed Bundy’s racist comments as well.
“Senator Heller completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way,” Heller’s spokeswoman Chandler Smith said in a statement.
Heller, R-Nev., called for congressional hearings into BLM’s tactics in the roundup, which was abruptly halted April 12 to avoid violence during an armed confrontation with militia members who traveled from across the country to defend Bundy. But the senator, who called Bundy backers “patriots,” has not supported his efforts to avoid paying grazing fees.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has called Bundy’s supporters “domestic terrorists.” The Senate majority leader said the rancher’s racist comments reveal his true character.
“Today, Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist,” Reid said in a statement. “But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite.”
“To advance his extreme, hateful views, Bundy has endangered the lives of innocent women and children,” Reid added. “This is not a game. It is the height of irresponsibility for any individual or entity in a position of power or influence to glorify or romanticize such a dangerous individual, and anyone who has done so should come to their senses and immediately condemn Bundy.”
Bundy has become a national hero to militias who don’t recognize U.S. authority and to people and some GOP politicians and candidates who object to the federal government owning 85 percent of Nevada land. But his remarks are expected to hurt his cause, giving his critics more reason to discount the 67-year-old’s views.
On Thursday, the New York Times first reported that Bundy, while speaking to supporters at his ranch recently, talked about “the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.”
“‘I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,’” Bundy said, the Times reported.
Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “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?” he asked. “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.”
Media Matters posted a video of Bundy’s remarks after the New York Times report appeared.
Bundy stood by his comments during a press conference Thursday near his ranch. He repeated sentiments that “the Negro community” living in Las Vegas Valley public housing look like slaves to him. He said he’s “a-wondering” if they’re better off now having abortions and watching their young men go to prison.
Meanwhile, the Bundy standoff is being watched closely by Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House public lands subcommittee. Bishop said Bundy’s comments on race “does not help his case at all.”
“No one regardless of the circumstances should make comments like that,” Bishop said in an interview from Utah. “They are ridiculous comments and it does not help his credibility.”
Bishop, who has called on the carpet land managers he believes have overstepped bounds or provided poor service, said his subcommittee already was planning a hearing on the Obama administration’s relationship with ranchers. On Thursday, he was critical of BLM’s handling of the Bundy cattle roundup, calling it heavy-handed and “over the top.” At the same time, he said Bundy should have paid his grazing fees.
The Bundy case “was not a part of our original thought,” he said of the planned hearing. “We’ll rethink it when we get back.” Congress returns next week from a two-week recess.
Bunkerville is about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Bundy has been grazing his cattle in the Gold Butte area for decades. He said his family has been on the land since the 1870s and so he has ancestral rights to the land.
U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., represents the region where Bundy ranches as part of his 4th Congressional District. Nevada’s first African-American congressman, Horsford grew up in North Las Vegas. He condemned Bundy’s views.
“Cliven Bundy’s remarks are truly hateful,” Horsford said. “His despicable comments about ‘the Negro’ belong in the dustbin of history. He is not a man who represents the American West’s way of life or the dignity of our hard-working Nevada ranchers. In reality, he is a lawbreaker who has been elevated to national folk hero by a conservative media that will jump at any opportunity to mold an anti-government zealot into a righteous crusader.”
Horsford was in Mesquite Thursday to meet with local officials “to discuss potential solutions to the problems that arose as a result of the clash between Cliven Bundy and the BLM.”
“Those who loudly championed Cliven Bundy have an obligation to denounce him,” Horsford said, noting his vast urban and rural district that spans seven counties is diverse. “Otherwise, they own his comments as well.”
Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, has been a strong Bundy backer but she, too, slammed his remarks.
“I strongly disagree with Cliven Bundy’s comments about slavery,” Fiore said in a statement. “Mr. Bundy has said things I don’t agree with; however, we cannot let this divert our attention from the true issue of the atrocities BLM committed by harming our public land and the animals living on it.”
Republican Niger Innis, an African-American congressional candidate who met several times with Bundy to support him, offered a nuanced response after speaking to the rancher by phone for an hour, telling him he was wrong.
“I understand his intent, which was to shine a light on a crisis in our urban centers all across the country, particularly in the black community,” Innis, a civil rights advocate, said in an interview. “But I told him he was wrong to bring up the issue of slavery. … He didn’t get it at first.”
Asked if Bundy understood and apologized in the end, Innis said, “He did. He said ‘I’m sorry for using that analogy.’”
Publicly, however, Bundy was unapologetic.
Innis is running in the 4th Congressional District, which includes Bunkerville. His June 10 GOP primary opponent is Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite. They’re both trying to unseat Horsford in the Nov. 4 general election.
Assemblyman Jim Wheeler, R-Minden, who has asked state lawmakers and other officials to investigate what occurred at the standoff, had little to say about Bundy’s comments.
“I don’t know if that is exactly what he said,” Wheeler said. “If the comments are correct then I think it is pretty ridiculous what he said.”
Wheeler received criticism for his own remarks about slavery, saying at an August 2013 GOP meeting that he would support it if his constituents wanted it. He later said he would never vote for slavery and that the question was aimed at the idea of elected officials voting on issues the way their constituents want them to vote.
“My constituents would never want that, and I would never vote for slavery,” Wheeler said after a tape of the discussion was made public in October.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault and Review-Journal writers Henry Brean and Sean Whaley contributed to this report. Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.