Anatomy of a 2014 villain: Cliven Bundy

If 2014 was the year of the ignorant white guy, then this racist Nevada rancher might have been its standard bearer

Published December 30, 2014 1:30PM (EST)

Cliven Bundy                   (Reuters/Steve Marcus)
Cliven Bundy (Reuters/Steve Marcus)

Background: Back in April, Cliven Bundy was just your average Nevada racist. The 67-year-old Mormon earned his living as a cattle rancher, allowing his herd to graze illegally on nearby federally protected land.

The controversy: Bundy owed a lot of money to the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in grazing fees and penalties -- $1.1 million, to be exact -- for allowing his cattle on federal property. Bundy refused to pay, so the BLM began impounding his 900 head of cattle. After posting on his website about the standoff, area supporters came to his ranch to protest the roundup, leading Bundy to threaten a "range war" against the U.S. government. The confrontation turned violent when an armed militia gathered on his ranch, aiming rifles at BLM's forces, who were in turn armed with semi-automatic weapons. BLM decided to retreat and Bundy became something of a folk hero to the anti-government set, garnering significant media attention in the process. Sens. Rand Paul, Dean Heller and large swaths of the conservative press lionized the rancher. Sen. Harry Reid, meanwhile, called Bundy's militia a band of "domestic terrorists."

It later came out that Bundy was (not unexpectedly) super racist: "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro ... They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton," said Bundy (and to the New York Times no less). "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 response:

As Salon's Elias Isquith wrote, conservatives were actually mixed in their reactions to his remarks:

To their credit, some Republicans have disowned Bundy harshly and unequivocally. ”His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him,” said former Bundy booster Sen. Rand Paul. Another former Bundy fan, Sen. Dean Heller, had his spokesman say that the senator “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”

Yet not every GOPer has been as eager to throw Bundy off the bandwagon. Rick Perry, who like Paul is considered a possible 2016 candidate, refused to distance himself from the racist rancher ... Radio host and Blaze contributor Dana Loesch, for example, responded to Bundy’s comments with a shrug of her shoulders, writing, “I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly.” Loesch did grant that, “at face value,” Bundy’s comments on race were “odd and sound[ed] offensive” but she also claimed that Bundy was, essentially, correct. “He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family,” Loesch wrote, “which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity [.]“ Loesch then went on to argue that Bundy was a distraction and that the larger issue of government overreach was in no way made less legitimate just because its mascot turned out to be an unreconstructed bigot.

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Even Fox News host Sean Hannity, who early on had sung the praises of the anti-government rancher, also backed away, saying, "His comments are beyond repugnant to me." (For more on right-wing responses to Bundy, Arit John and Abby Ohlheiser at the Wire compiled a pretty comprehensive list here.)

Where is he now?

In October, Bundy appeared in a campaign ad for Kamau Bakari, a black Independent American Party candidate for Congress in Nevada. It was, in a word, odd.

Recently, articles have begun comparing Bundy with Eric Garner, a Staten Island black man who was held in an illegal chokehold until he died. In the Atlantic, Peter Beinart wrote:

Like Garner, Bundy was engaged in a form of commerce he believed the government should not tax. Like Garner, Bundy resisted law enforcement’s efforts to punish him for it. For many conservatives, this made Bundy a hero and the government that sought to penalize him a tyranny... To imagine how Fox News would be reacting right now had Garner been white, rural, and facing the feds, you need only imagine how it would have reacted had a BLM agent shot Bundy dead.

Otherwise, he has stayed out of the national spotlight. Presumably, he has returned to a quiet life of ranching and copulating.

By Joanna Rothkopf

MORE FROM Joanna Rothkopf

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