BUNKERVILLE, Nev. — For a while, in certain quarters, Cliven Bundy was celebrated as a John Wayne-like throwback to the Old West — a weathered, plainspoken rancher just trying to graze his cattle and keep the government off his back. But that was before he started sounding more like a throwback to the Old South.
Conservative Republican politicians and commentators who once embraced Bundy for standing up to Washington are stampeding in the other direction — and branding him a racist — after he suggested that blacks might have had it better as slaves picking cotton.
The furor has made it apparent how limited Bundy's appeal ever was.
Bundy, 67, and his armed supporters thwarted an attempt by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management two weeks ago to seize his family's cattle over his failure to pay $1.1 million in grazing fees and penalties for the use of government land over the past 20 years. A local land-use dispute soon turned into a national debate, with conservatives calling it another example of big-government overreach.
But the rugged West that Bundy was said to represent has changed, becoming more urban and less concerned about federal intrusion than it was during the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion in the 1970s and '80s. In the urban areas that now dominate the West, there have been few stirrings of support for Bundy.
Even many fellow ranchers regard him as more a deadbeat than a hero.
"You've got hundreds of ranchers in Nevada who pay their fee regularly," said Tom Collins, a rancher on the Clark County Commission. "On the grazing fee issue, Bundy doesn't have sympathy from the ranchers."
At the Bunkerville Post Office, Chad Dalton, a lineman for a power company, said that the case brought up important issues but that they should be addressed through laws, not with guns.