(CBS News) After previously sympathizing with Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who refuses to pay the more than $1 million in fees he owes the federal government, Republicans are denouncing Bundy's most recent, racist comments.
Bundy has garnered notable right-wing support for his refusal to recognize the government's authority over federal land. His latest comments, however, targeted African-Americans who depend on public housing and went so far as to suggest that black Americans were better off as slaves.
"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?" Cliven said, the New York Times reports.
Last week, when discussing the armed standoff between the federal Bureau of Land Management and Bundy and his supporters, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Bundy and his armed allies "domestic terrorists."
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., responded, "What Sen. Reid called 'domestic terrorists,' I called 'patriots,'" said Heller. He noted that he's supported efforts to transfer some federal land in Nevada to state control.
Heller's office told CBS News that the senator repudiates the rancher's most recent remarks.
"Senator Heller completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy's appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way," a spokesperson for the senator said.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential presidential contender with libertarian views, similarly sympathized with Bundy's opposition to federal authority. He said on Fox News on Monday, "With regard to his specifics, I'm for obeying the law and I'm not for a violent outcome. But with regard to the general question, should the states have some prerogative in this, I think so. I would like to see the land owned by individuals, either privately or, at the very most, the state government, but not the federal government."
On Thursday, the senator responded on Twitter to Bundy's recent remarks: "Cliven Bundy's remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him," he said.
Right-wing media have linked Bundy's feud with the government to plans the the Bureau of Land Management is drawing up for land in Texas. On "CBS This Morning" on Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, said that Bundy's dispute with the government was a "side issue."
"The real issue here is the federal government and how the federal government deals with these issues of private citizens," he said.
Asked about Bundy's racist remarks, Perry said, "I don't know what he said, but the fact is Cliven Bundy is a side issue here compared to what we're looking at in the state of Texas. He is an individual - deal with his issues as you may. What we have in the state of Texas... is the federal government is coming in and attempting, from our perspective, to take over private property. And you must -- if this country's to stay the land of freedom and liberty, private property rights must be respected."