Almost overnight, Cliven Bundy became a hero of the anti-government right wing after his armed standoff against the Bureau of Land Management, to which he owes over $1 million in grazing fees. Fox News’ Sean Hannity has lavished praise on the Nevada rancher, who has also elicited support from several Tea Party lawmakers.
Unfortunately for conservative politicians trying to elevate him as a patriot battling government overreach, Bundy is using his new national platform to argue that black people were better off as slaves.
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” Bundy said at a news conference on Saturday, recounting how he had seen black people in a public housing project in North Las Vegas. “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.”
Watch it, via Media Matters:
After the comments broke, a few of Bundy’s prominent supporters immediately set about distancing themselves.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who called Bundy a patriot last week, was the first to denounce the comments; his spokesman told the New York Times the senator “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was quick to follow: “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” he said in a statement.
Others, however, haven’t said a word. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) also rose to Bundy’s defense earlier this week. “I have a problem with the federal government putting citizens in the position of having to feel like they have to use force to deal with their own government. That’s the bigger issue,” Perry said Wednesday. Cruz called the standoff “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.” Perry said he had not yet heard Bundy’s comments Thursday morning, and Cruz has stayed quiet thus far.
Conservative pundit Dana Loesch even stuck to Bundy’s defense, arguing Thursday that he simply lacks media training.
This cycle has become all too familiar when it comes to conservative media symbols. Conservative media and lawmakers rallied around Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he was suspended from A&E for making offensive comments about gay people and African Americans. In fact, Robertson sounded a lot like Bundy when he asserted that African American sharecroppers were “singing and happy” in “pre-entitlement, pre-welfare” America. Joe the Plumber, the Republican hero of the 2008 presidential campaign, also used his platform to amplify racist speech, reposting an essay claiming that “wanting a white Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American.”
Bundy, meanwhile, is reportedly asking the New York Times to retract his musings on black America, insisting, “I’m not racist,” but was just “wondering” if they are better off without slavery. The Bundy Ranch Facebook page agreed: “Cliven is a good man, he loves all people, he is not a racist man. He wants what’s best for everyone.”
Perry’s spokesman wrote to Business Insider condemning Bundy’s remarks: “He hadn’t yet read them at the time at the time of the interview. He has now had a chance to read Bundy’s comments and he thinks they are reprehensible and disagrees with them in the strongest possible way.”