For weeks, conservative media have embraced Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who engaged in an armed standoff with federal agents after refusing to pay decades worth of federal grazing fees on public land. The support persisted even as Bundy and his supporters were engaging in revolutionary, insurrectionist rhetoric and repeated threats of violence against government authorities.
Bundy took this even further on April 19, when he made overtly racist comments during one of his daily press conferences. From the New York Times (emphasis added):
"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."
Though Nevada coverage of the Bundy standoff has made it clear that Bundy is breaking the law, right-wing media, and Fox News in particular, have propped up his cause with a PR campaign that romanticizes his lawlessness and the armed militia groups that helped him force a standoff with federal agents. On Fox alone, Bundy received a total 4 hours and 40 minutes of its prime-time programming between April 5, when Bundy's story broke, and April 17:
Fox figures have been aggressive in supporting Bundy's fight with the federal government, led by Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity interviewed Bundy on his Fox show Hannity, on April 9, sympathizing with the rancher's claims and arguing that allowing Bundy's cattle to graze on public lands "keeps the price of meat down for every American consumer." In the following days, Hannity escalated his rhetoric, arguing that federal agents have "drawn the wrong line in the sand here," praising Bundy because he "like[s] anybody that's willing to fight," and stoking fears "of what this government is capable of doing." Hannity also repeatedly predicted a violent outcome, saying, "This can spiral out of control," and, "If it keeps going, this is going to end very, very badly." He even demanded, "The government needs to stand down" because "I'm telling you, [it is] my opinion that this crisis could come to a head, and lives could be lost." He has refused to apologize for touting the standoff, and has doubled down on his support when his hypocrisy on the rule of law was highlighted.
Other Fox figures have downplayed Bundy and his supporters' threats of violence, agreeing that Bundy and his supporters demonstrate "the resistance of patriotic Americans," supporting the agitators as "good, hardworking Americans" or "law-abiding American citizens -- patriots," even as they concede that Bundy's actions were illegal. Right-wing outlets outside of Fox have made similar arguments. National Review Online's Kevin Williamson called the presence of armed agents "inflammatory" and compared Bundy to Gandhi. The Drudge Report recklessly hyped the growing fear of a violent standoff between anti-government militia members and federal forces.
Some of Bundy's conservative media supporters seem undeterred by his repulsive comments. Radio host Dana Loesch, who has already used Bundy's standoff to invoke Benghazi, said his comments were "odd and sounds offensive," but also defended him, saying:
I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn't media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family -- which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity -- so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government? I'm just trying to figure out how he even got to the point of discussing it and yes, it's justified to have a healthy suspicion of the New York Times.
On the April 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, on the other hand, demonstrated what rational coverage of the Bundy's lawlessness looks like, noting, "it's the kind of conservatism that undermines everything that conservatives should be about":
UPDATED: Here's the video of Bundy's racist rant: