Rancher says he’s not racist, still defiant over grazing battle

Las Vegas rancher Cliven Bundy talks to supporters April 11, 2014, about the gathering of his cattle by the Bureau of Land Management. (Credit: KVVU)

Las Vegas rancher Cliven Bundy talks to supporters April 11, 2014, about the gathering of his cattle by the Bureau of Land Management. (Credit: KVVU)

LAS VEGAS — Cliven Bundy — the Nevada rancher turned conservative folk hero for bucking the federal government’s attempts to stop his cattle from grazing on public land — admits he doesn’t understand the bipartisan uproar over his comments suggesting blacks might have been better off under slavery.

But in a contentious interview Friday on CNN’s “New Day,” Bundy stood by his remarks, saying he’s not a racist but only somebody who spoke his mind, perhaps using politically incorrect language.

“Maybe I sinned, and maybe I need to ask forgiveness, and maybe I don’t know what I actually said, but when you talk about prejudice, we’re talking about not being able to exercise what we think. … If I say Negro or black boy or slave, if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be (offended), then Martin Luther King hasn’t got his job done yet,” he told anchor Chris Cuomo on Friday, adding, “We need to get over this prejudice stuff.”

Bundy brought up civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, who was arrested in December 1955 for not giving up her seat on a public bus to a white man. The arrest sparked the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott.

Bundy said King would have wanted Parks to sit anywhere on a bus. Bundy said, “I want her to sit anywhere in the bus and I want to sit next to her anywhere in the bus.”

In one exchange with Cuomo, Bundy said, “I don’t know how to talk about these ethnic groups …”

“Then don’t,” Cuomo said.

For two decades, Bundy’s cattle have fed off government-owned land without paying grazing fees like thousands of other ranchers. He claims he won’t do business with the federal government because, in his view, the Constitution doesn’t say Americans can’t use land owned by the federal government. He said he’d be willing to talk with state and local authorities..

“I’ll be damned if this is the property of the United States. They have no business here,” he said on “New Day.”

“This is a sovereign state, the sovereign state of Nevada. The federal government has nothing to do with public land in Nevada.” He said other ranchers are as frustrated as he is.

This stance made him a darling of some conservatives in the media and Republican circles upset over what they’ve deemed government overreach. Militiamen rallied by the side of the 67-year-old rancher as armed federal rangers tried to force him off his land.

Bundy won that standoff, but he didn’t stop talking.

Speaking to reporters over the weekend, he recalled driving by a public housing project in North Las Vegas, Nevada, and seeing “at least a half-dozen (black) people sitting on the porch, they didn’t have nothing to do.”

“Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he added in comments first reported by The New York Times and later seen on video. “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.”

The remarks have since gone viral, drawing widespread condemnation from Democrats and Republicans alike. The rancher said he doesn’t feel “abandoned” by the uproar by the likes of right-wing radio firebrand and Fox News host Sean Hannity, who has ripped what he called the “ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments.”

Sen. Rand Paul, who originally supported Bundy’s case, issued a statement Thursday decrying Bundy’s racial comments.

“His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” said the Kentucky Republican, who’s considering a 2016 presidential run.

GOP Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada earlier called Bundy’s supporters “patriots.” But Thursday, the senator’s office said he “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who had not weighed in on the land dispute, said Bundy’s words were “beyond the pale.”

On Thursday, in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Bill Weir, Bundy was asked to elaborate on his remarks. He explained he’d been simply “wondering whether (blacks) are that much better off in the situation we’re in now.”

He backtracked somewhat, insisting he “didn’t really mean it to compare (African-Americans’ current plight) with slavery. I meant to compare it with maybe life on the farm or life in the South, where they had some chickens and the gardens, and they had something to do.”

At the same time, Bundy stood by his general premise that blacks once had better lives — stating that, right now, “they don’t have nothing to do with their children, their family unit is ruined. … That’s what I was referring to. I don’t think they have the life that they should have” because of the government.

How did he arrive at these generalizations?

“I feel that, because I see that,” Bundy explained. He said, “I don’t think I’m wrong. I think I’m right.”

Weir at one point challenged the Nevada rancher about whether he was any more or less a “welfare queen” since his cattle have been feeding off the government, literally, by eating grass on public land.

Bundy’s response: “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. I’m putting red meat on the table.”

8 comments

  • WeBuiltThisCountry

    Thanks to all the minority veterans, I can’t imagine how y’all feel when you see this but trust me there are millions of citizens that apreciate your services! #HOORAW…Hope I said that right :)

  • dewey

    “Bundy’s response: “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. I’m putting red meat on the table.”

    …..at the cost of taxpayers because you use public land to graze your cattle…by rights, he should be giving the meat away, he isn’t paying to feed them

  • BOZ

    Maybe he hasn’t heard of the Whiskey Rebellion. Also, if he believes blacks are better off in slavery, then his ancestors were better off keeping their Manifest Densinty and going back to their own country and the cattle were better off staying free! It works both ways!

  • Mark Drebin

    The white conservatives biggest fear that their children and grand children will be living in a non-white majority America. I dare the Tea Partiers to take a lie detector test on if they are a racist. The majority will fail. Question??? WHY DOES THE REPUBLICAN PARTY ATTRACT RACISTS!!!

  • vasumurti

    Should meat be taxed? I’ve heard that when he was with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Bruce Friedrich would urge legislators to “tax meat” — similar to the “sin taxes” we now see on cigarettes and alcohol.

    Before joining PETA, Bruce Friedrich distributed copies of his essay “Veganism and Nonviolence” to the numerous Catholic Worker houses across the United States, pointing out that many Catholic worker-types like to think of themselves as nonviolent, but are unaware of the violence that goes into a hamburger or a glass of milk.

    A bumper sticker by Friends of Animals reads “Veganism Is Direct Action”…

    …but direct action might be economic impact:

    ABOLISH “WELFARE-RANCHING”!
    ABOLISH ALL TAXPAYER SUPPORT OF THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY!

    Vegan author John Robbins provides these points and facts in his Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America (1987):

    Half the water consumed in the U.S. irrigates land growing feed and fodder for livestock. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of meat. If these costs weren’t subsidized by the American taxpayers, the cheapest hamburger meat would be $35 per pound!

    Livestock producers are California’s biggest consumers of water. Every tax dollar the state doles out to livestock producers costs taxpayers over seven dollars in lost wages, higher living costs and reduced business income. Seventeen western states have enough water supplies to support economies and populations twice as large as the present.

    U.S. livestock produce twenty times as much excrement as the entire human population, creating sewage which is ten to several hundred times as concentrated as raw domestic sewage. Meat producers contribute to half the water pollution in the United States.

    Again: half the water consumed in the U.S. irrigates land growing feed and fodder for livestock. It takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, but 2,500 gallons to produce a pound of meat. If these costs weren’t subsidized by the American taxpayers, the cheapest hamburger meat would be $35 per pound!

    If we abolish all taxpayer support for the livestock industry, the cheapest hamburger meat would be $35 per pound, effectively making everyone in the United States a vegetarian. This would have far greater and far-reaching consequences than merely taxing meat.

    A 2007 pamphlet put out by Compassion Over Killing similarly points out:

    Nearly 75% of the grain grown and 50% of the water consumed in the U.S. are used by the meat industry. (Audubon Society)

    It takes nearly one gallon of fossil fuel and 5,200 gallons of water to produce just one pound of conventionally fed beef. (Mother Jones)

    In their 2007 book, Please Don’t Eat the Animals, mother and daughter Jennifer Horsman and Jaime Flowers write:

    “Half of all fresh water worldwide is used for thirsty livestock. Producing eight ounces of beef requires an unimaginable 25,000 liters of water, or the water necessary for one pound of steak equals the water consumption of the average household for a year.

    “The Worldwatch Institute estimates one pound of steak from a steer raised in a feedlot costs: five pounds of grain, a whopping 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about 34 pounds of topsoil.

    “Thirty-three percent of our nation’s raw materials and fossil fuels go into livestock destined for slaughter. In a vegan economy, only two percent of our resources will go to the production of food.”

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