The New York Times has overheard Cliven Bundy — the Nevada rancher who, instead of paying decades of overdue grazing fees, met the Bureau of Land management with guns and a small militia — saying this:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. 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.”
Conservative and libertarian politicians have been sympathetic toward Bundy’s cause, framing his protest as an act of patriotism in the face of an overstepping government. The grazing fees were related to the Endangered Species Act. Ranchers on protected federal land have to pay a fee if they want to use it. And most of the land in Nevada is owned by the federal government.
Expect every politician to back away from the issue.
“His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” Sen. Rand Paul said in a statement Thursday morning.
But it was just Monday night when Paul offered a careful defense of Bundy’s actions to Fox News. Saying that while breaking the law is wrong, the government should rethink its business managing grazing land. “I’m for obeying the law and I’m not for a violent outcome,” he said. “But with regard to the general question, should the states have some prerogative in this, I think so.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who hasn’t had many kind words for Bundy before Thursday, called the rancher a “hateful racist” in a statement.
Sen. Ted Cruz has also rallied behind Bundy, saying the standoff “is the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path that President Obama has set the federal government on.” He said the administration was “using the jackboot of authoritarianism to come against the citizens.”
Conservative Fox News anchor Sean Hannity has had Bundy on his show multiple times, and Bundy calls Hannity one of his heroes.
Sen. Dean Heller, who the Times writes has called Bundy’s supporters “patriots,” offered this response to the paper via a spokesperson. He “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mispelled Sen. Dean Heller’s first name.