LAS VEGAS — Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s battle against the federal government over land rights took an unexpected detour after a newspaper quoted the 67-year-old grandfather suggesting African-Americans were “better off as slaves” because slavery taught work skills and enhanced family life.
Bundy, who has waged a standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, insisting he has a right to graze hundreds of head of cattle on public lands without paying fees, has been surrounded by citizen militias that have converged on his ranch in rural Bunkerville after armed federal officials moved in to remove Bundy’s cattle.
The BLM called off the roundup and released the cattle, but says the matter is not over. Bundy and his supporters are awaiting the government’s next move.
Over the weekend, Bundy spoke to supporters about general issues involved in the standoff. Suddenly, he took a turn and began discoursing on African-Americans and public welfare.
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said in comments quoted by the New York Times. He 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.”
He added: “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 lawmakers in Washington, who have so far supported Bundy, have blasted his remarks, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who had previously referred to the gray-haired rancher as a patriot.