WASHINGTON -- Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy doubled down on his controversial remarks about slavery Thursday, insisting that perhaps the "Negro people" were better off as the property of white owners because then, at least, they had gardens and chickens to tend to instead of being dependent on the government.
"Cliven Bundy's a-wondering about these people," said Bundy, referring to himself in the third person. "Now I'm talking about the black community. I'm a-wondering. Are they better off with their young women aborting their children? Are they better off with the young men in prison? Are they better off with the older people on their sidewalks in front of their government-issued homes with a few children? Are they better off, are they happier than they was in the South in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them, and their man having something to do? Are they better off?"
In recent weeks, Bundy has become a hero to some conservatives for his anti-government attitude. He and his armed supporters chased away Bureau of Land Management rangers this month who tried to confiscate his cattle that had been illegally grazing on public land since 1993.
This standoff made prominent politicians such as Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) into Bundy fans.
But on Wednesday, The New York Times published comments that Bundy made Saturday at one of his daily news conferences. The rancher seemed to reminisce fondly about the days when blacks were slaves.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked, referring to African-Americans. "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."
His comments set off a firestorm, with those same politicians now distancing themselves from him.
Bundy insisted Thursday that he does understand slavery and isn't glossing over what it was like.
"I might not have a very big word base, or vocabulary, I guess. But let me tell you something: When I say slavery, I mean slavery. I understand what slavery's all about, and there's no question in my mind about that I don't know what slavery's about," he insisted. "Slavery's about when you take away choices for people, and where you have forced labor and you transfer people and sell them and all of those kinds of things. Do you think that's what America's all about? Do you think that's what I'm about, America? If it is, you're sure wrong, because I don't believe in any of that type of stuff."
But there was widespread agreement Thursday that if Bundy is even wondering if blacks were better off being enslaved, he probably doesn't understand what slavery was. From Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic:
Enslaved black people were, with some regularity, beat with cowhide whips, tongs, pokers, chairs, and wooden boards. Nails were driven through their palms, pins through their tongues. Eyes were gouged out for the smallest offense.
When people like Cliven Bundy assert the primacy of the past it is important that we do not recount it selectively. American enslavement is the destruction of the black body for profit. That is the past that Cliven Bundy believes "the Negro" to have been better off in. He is, regrettably, not alone.
"Today, Bundy revealed himself to be a hateful racist," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who last week called Bundy's supporters "domestic terrorists." "But by denigrating people who work hard and play by the rules while he mooches off public land, he also revealed himself to be a hypocrite."
During his press conference, Bundy also talked about how scared he was during the Watts riots of 1965, recounting how relieved he was when a group of "black boys" didn't kill him.