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Cliven Bundy, the Wild West hero. Or not

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Donna Brazile looks at the furor around Bundy and wonders if Republicans are in denial

Bundy has been in a dispute over grazing fees he owes to the federal government

Bundy made comments recently saying that blacks were better off as slaves "picking cotton"

Editor’s Note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of “Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America.” She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

CNN —  

Ah, Cliven Bundy – poster boy for the anti-government, rugged-individualist crowd. The Marlboro Man for the conservative fantasy world.

Or not.

Cliven Bundy is so bizarre he leaves late night comedians spluttering. (Just check out one of Jon Stewart’s riffs.) His comments about race were so embarrassing that Sean Hannity, who had called Bundy “a friend and frequent guest of the show,” had to do a “protest too much” denouncement. Yes, Hannity called Bundy’s words “beyond repugnant” – but only after first promoting him as a patriot par excellence.

Republican office-holders, such as Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who had been cheerleading Bundy and his rabble also had to distance themselves, many of them fumbling with their rhetorical pom-poms in the process.

Donna Brazile
JUSTIN LAROSE/cnn
Donna Brazile

Here’s the basic background: Bundy is a wealthy Nevada rancher who believes he has “beneficial use” claim to grazing lands owned by the federal government. Ownership of the land is not a matter of dispute. Bundy has been in and out of protracted court battles for decades, and he’s lost every time.

In 1993, Bundy stopped paying the grazing fees for using federal Bureau of Land Management land. His fees accumulated to $1 million. Finally, after two courts ruled in the bureau’s favor, it moved to seize Bundy’s cattle, planning to sell them at auction to pay for the 20 years’ worth of grazing fees.

On April 5, the bureau brought in armed federal agents and began removing Bundy’s cattle. Bundy’s son Dave was arrested for refusing to leave. That night, Bundy sent a message: “They have my cattle and now they have one of my boys. Range War begins tomorrow.”

Visions of the Wild West, anyone? Frontier justice? Or not.

Bundy’s supporters rallied around him, traveling from out of state. That’s when the bizarre started. Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, said, “We’re actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front. If they are going to start shooting, it’s going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers.”

How’s that for a jaw-dropper?

The standoff lasted a week, until the bureau announced on April 12 that it would return the seized cattle because of its “grave concern about the safety of employees and members of the public.”