BUNKERVILLE, Nev. — The Nevada cattle rancher at the center of a public lands fight with the federal government offered an apology of sorts Friday for offending people with comments widely condemned as racist.
Cliven Bundy told reporters he sometimes says the right thing and sometimes says the wrong thing. He hinted again at saying the wrong thing about blacks as he worked to explain himself at the site of his ranch.
"I hope that I didn't offend anybody," Bundy said. "If I did, I ask for your forgiveness, but I'm not going to withdraw what I said."
Bundy made sweeping statements, openly suggesting that blacks might be better off as slaves rather than on the public dole. That drew swift response around the country, including in Salt Lake City.
"The statement made by Cliven Bundy that blacks were better off under slavery and picking cotton now depending upon government subsidy clearly shows his ingorance. His overt racist remarks is an attempt to take away attention from his actions," said Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada, Utah.
"Blacks had nothing to do with him grazing his cattle free on government land for 20 years and now he does not want to pay. What he has done is despicable. He broke the law and should pay the consequences."
The battle over the use of this federal land is far from over. On Friday there was fear being voiced by Bundy's gun-touting supporters that federal agents may be among them.
Many militia members remain entrenched — some willing to give up their lives — no matter what controversial rhetoric comes from Bundy's mouth.
"It's always something that we're always thinking about," said Bobby Bridgewater, member of the Oathkeepers, which describes itself as a "nonpartisan association of current and formerly serving military, police, and first responders." "You don't know until you catch somebody."
The paranoia is palpable, but the support is unflinching for the rancher whose cattle were targeted in a failed federal roundup.