In a fresh statement defending his remarks about slavery, Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy on Friday said Americans are all “in some measure slaves of the federal government,” from being controlled by the heavy-handed Bureau of Land Management to answering to the Internal Revenue Service.
Bundy also compared his battle with the BLM to graze his cattle on federal land — to which he claims ancestral rights — to Martin Luther King Jr.’s and Rosa Parks’ efforts to gain equal rights for blacks in America. It’s a comparison that could further inflame critics, who called Bundy a racist after he said blacks on government assistance might be “better off as slaves.”
“We are trading one form of slavery for another,” Bundy said in a statement emailed to the media Friday morning. “What I am saying is that all we Americans are trading one form of slavery for another. All of us are in some measure slaves of the federal government.”
Bundy provided several examples, using his own fight with the BLM, which on April 12 halted a roundup of the rancher’s cattle to avoid violence after armed militias from across the country traveled to his ranch to confront the BLM. The agency said Bundy owes more than $1 million in grazing fees and fines and hasn’t paid the BLM for more than 20 years. The rancher’s son, Ryan Bundy, said the roundup resulted in the death of at least seven animals, with 37 head of cattle still missing.
Bundy had become a folk hero to anti-government supporters and some conservative GOP politicians and candidates after the BLM arrested his son and clashed with other peaceful protesters. But after the New York Times on Thursday published his remarks about low-income blacks and slavery, much of that public support evaporated.
On Friday, the 67-year-old rancher blamed the government for what he characterized as tyrannical tactics.
“Through their oppressive tactics of telling the ranchers how many cows they can have on their land, and making that number too low to support a ranch, the BLM has driven every rancher in Clark County off the land, except me,” Bundy said. “The IRS keeps the people of America in fear, and makes us all work about a third or a half of the year before we have earned enough to pay their taxes. This is nothing but slavery from January through May.”
Bundy wasn’t through, criticizing the National Security Agency for keeping secret watch on Americans.
“The NSA spies on us and collects our private phone calls and emails,” he said. “And the government dole, which many people in America are on, and have been for much of their lives, is dehumanizing and degrading. It takes away incentive to work and self respect. Eventually a person on the dole becomes a ward of the government, because his only source of income is a dole from the government. Once the government has you in that position, you are its slave.”
Bundy claimed he’s fighting for freedom much like civil rights leaders did in the 1960s.
“I am trying to keep Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive,” Bundy said. “He was praying for the day when he and his people would be free, and he could say I’m free, free at last, thank God I’m free at last! But all of us here (in) America, no matter our race, are having our freedom eroded and destroyed by the federal government because of its heavy-handed tactics. The BLM, the IRS, the NSA — all of the federal agencies are destroying our freedom.”
“I am standing up against their bad and unconstitutional laws, just like Rosa Parks did when she refused to sit in the back of the bus,” Bundy continued. “She started a revolution in America, the civil rights movement, which freed the black people from much of the oppression they were suffering. … I am doing the same thing Rosa Parks did. I am standing up against bad laws which dehumanize us and destroy our freedom.”
Bundy invoked the American Revolutionary War, saying he invited “all people in America to join in our peaceful revolution to regain our freedom.”
“Just like the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord, we are saying no to an oppressive government which considers us to be slaves rather than free men,” Bundy said.
Later at a press conference in Bunkerville, he talked for 40 minutes, mostly about his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, the history of the U.S. and the history of cows.
But first he asked for forgiveness from anyone who he might have been offended by his comments about blacks. He said he believes in equal rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion for everyone. “I think they should have the freedoms the Constitution has guaranteed them.”
When a follow-up question about race was later asked, he said, “No, I don’t want to talk about race.”
He repeated his oft-stated belief that he is only governed by the state of Nevada, not the federal government, and that federal courts have no jurisdiction over him.
He said that about a year ago, he talked to county officials he did not name about paying a “production tax” to the county for every cow he sold. The proposal was for $100 a head for cattle that had grazed on public land. Previously he said he had offered to pay the county the grazing fees, but that proposal was rejected.
A Friday night barbecue held by the Bundys drew less than 1oo people, with just a smattering of minorities in attendance. Bundy had invited class members of a school that teaches U.S. citizenship and English to immigrants to the event. The school is run by Republican Niger Innis, an African-American congressional candidate and civil rights advocate who contacted Bundy on Thursday hoping to convince the rancher how wrong his inflammatory remarks were.
Review-Journal reporter Jane Ann Morrison contributed to this report.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Find her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.