White Rage in the Sage: Western Racism is Nothing New


The American media has suddenly discovered that anti-government Tea Party hero Cliven Bundy is a racist. While this has caused some discomfort among some of Bundy’s admirers, it should really come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of history or Western American white culture. The sagebrush rebels like to portray themselves as heroic “salt of the earth” rugged individualists trying to preserve their way of life in the face of evil federal government alphabet agency oppressors like the EPA, ATF, FBI, and BLM. However, racism has always had a central role in the white man’s conquest of the West and that racism never died.

The West was won by slaughtering the original inhabitants, and white control of the land was entrenched by massacres at places like Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, where American Indians were brutally murdered by men who believed themselves to be racially superior. While the modern cattle man cannot be held directly responsible for 19th century massacres, the ideology of white supremacy runs through the veins of many a Western cowboy or rancher.

John Wayne, a Western icon, perhaps best illustrated the Sagebrush rebels racial attitudes late into the 20th Century. The movie star’s opinion of  the white man’s treatment of Native Americans can be summed up by this choice quote from a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine.

I don’t feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them, if that’s what you’re asking. Our so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were
selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.

John Wayne’s attitudes towards blacks was also decidedly racist and in the same vein as Cliven Bundy’s contemporary remarks. In the 1971 interview, the cowboy actor proclaimed his belief in white supremacy as follows:

I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don’t believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.

Now to be fair, John Wayne is a pop culture Hollywood actor representing the Western rancher ethos and not a real rancher, but as a cultural icon he is one that is readily embraced by many white folks in the West to this day, in spite of or maybe because of his blatant racism.

The modern Libertarian movement that is so closely aligned with the Sagebrush Rebellion of the American interior West defines itself as race neutral. However, time and time again, the leaders of that movement reveal themselves to be White Supremacists not the race-neutral opponents of federal power that they like to present themselves as.

How quickly Americans have forgotten that Ronald Reagan’s controversial Interior Secretary James Watt was not ousted from his position for his confrontational attitude towards environmentalists, but rather because he referred to an advisory panel as containing ”a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple”. While many Senators favored his resignation, the staunchest defender of his racist remarks was a Western GOP Senator, Alaska’s Ted Stevens.

Perhaps Americans have also forgotten that in the 1990s a favorite Congressperson for Sagebrush rebels, militia leaders, anti-environmentalists, and others who opposed federal government authority was Idaho’s Helen Chenowith. Chenowith, a White Supremacist congress woman once railed against the Endangered Species Act by proclaiming that “it’s the white Anglo-Saxon male that’s endangered”. That comment was well received by White Supremacists who built their Aryan separatist community in the Idaho panhandle.

While Southern bigotry, associated as it is with the slave holding states of the Old Confederacy, receives the most attention, the Western bigotry of the Cliven Bundy variety is no less toxic. Racism has always been a central feature of the Sagebrush rebellion’s anti-government crusade. Many wealthy Western ranchers who receive generous federal subsidies, view themselves as deserving of government support from the very government they refuse to recognize, while at the same time they demonize racial minorities as undeserving welfare recipients stealing from “hard-working” Americans like themselves. While they may try to deny their bigotry, the Western anti-government movement has a long tradition of racism, and Cliven Bundy is part of that tradition.

17 Replies to “White Rage in the Sage: Western Racism is Nothing New”

  1. John Wayne has a very peculiar history. There were rumours he was possibly gay. He was also a doll collector.

    He was making the movie the Conquerors when he was downwind from the Nevada Test Site (he was in Utah) and died of cancer along with most of the co stars and extras. The only major star who didn’t die from cancer doing that film was Natalie Wood because she drowned in an very odd accident before she got a chance to pass from cancer.

    I would be very interested in knowing what the health of Cliven Bundy really is. If his family has been there since the 1940s than they were there from the very first nuclear test. The bomb blasts were annoying enough to peel the paint off Las Vegas buildings.

    It would be very interesting to find out the cancer rate of the Bundy family.

  2. These are the facts. In 1848 Mexico in a treaty ceded the land to the US. The Nevada constitution said that the land belongs to the US and no one can lay claim to it. The Nevada Constitution (* and the ACT OF CONGRESS (1864) ENABLING THE PEOPLE OF NEVADA TO FORM A CONSTITUTION AND STATE GOVERNMENT) state:

    “ That the people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare, that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States; …..”

    And finally the property clause of the US Constitution states: THE PROPERTY CLAUSE POWER
    The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations
    respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States….

    And the cherry on top. Their hero Ronnie Raygun made the rules regarding the use of federal lands.
    Pay your bills. That is all

  3. These anti-government, anti-minority, and militia types all have this same insecurity complex that manifests itself in different ways. They all have a need to feel dominate in a world where they know deep inside that they are the true minority.

    Add to that the fact that you have the GOP and their cronies fanning the flames of their insecurities just to appeal to them for the vote. The GOP and the NRA constantly preach to these types that america is falling apart because gay people now have rights, that minorities are taking over the country, and they are coming for your guns. This is the ONLY segment of the public that the GOP can appeal to anymore. They are creating the division in this country for their own good. It is reckless and irresponsible but it is the GOP agenda.

    As far as Bundy himself. I think as you look at him and his family and listen to his ignorance. It is more than likely to many generations of inbreeding.

  4. Fact: Bundy owes money to the government.

    Fact: The government has a right to seize his cattle and arrest Bundy.

    Fact: Sending military down to his ranch and over reacting when this matter could have been resolved in a down played manner without spending all the money and man power that was used for one old man and his cattle.

    Fact: Reason for folk in the area and Tea Party folk rallying around him was because of the over-reaction of the government on this matter

    FACT: Bundy does not speak eloquently nor does he convey what he means very well. In many ways this old rancher is obviously ignorant about the topic’s he is speaking.

    Fact: Media and Liberal folks have over played their hand by calling Bundy a racist for his ignorant remarks.

    Fact: This is really a sad mess and everything on this matter has been overblown, and used to promote agendas that have nothing to do with this matter.

  5. Your facts need a lot of work.
    The tea bags and their penis miltia where there before the BLM agents were. They were there to confiscate cattle, not threaten anyone.
    No one overplayed anything. If what he said isnt racist to you, then go back to school. He said what he said. He meant what he said.

  6. Bundy is indeed a racist, and there is no way to sugarcoat that fact. He’s full of the same dim-witted arrogance that folks like the late John Wayne possessed. That dim-witted arrogance allowed the racists in the West to decimate the Native American populations there and take their land, attempting to elevate their murderous greed by calling it “Manifest Destiny.” I also call it dim-witted arrogance because the white supremacist thinking that’s an inseparable part of it is based also on an abysmal ignorance of American history. The remarks about black people show how both men internalized the anti-black racism that both stemmed from and perpetuated slavery, and later the Jim Crow system. This article is extremely useful because too many people who decry racism fall into the trap of thinking that it’s just a Southern problem when it’s part and parcel of how this country was founded and built.

  7. Info: In N.Nevada and the boonies there, racial differences are so rare they don’t get it. In Reno, in the 6Os I had ONE black classmate. 70s?: 30 black kids in my H.S. of at least 800 kids. Bundy is 18 years older than I. “Negro” was pc in 1960s. If you own a place out there and your neighbor is black and his name is Charles, chances are, you call him “Charles my neighbor”. I KNOW NOW, how it harmed my friends because we didn’t identify them as black, so we didn’t see or stop discrimination they faced. People were busy hating natives for no good reason(unless they were farmers/ranchers). We knew haters by the words they used, we ignored them for too long, I KNOW NOW… and all “that race stuff” was for the city dwellers. City: “A four letter word where all the bad shyt & idiots are, so of course THEY are racists there!” I’m angry with him, but I’m angrier with his family who does know better and the whole “Christian Identity WS” insurrectionists they gathered to use…

  8. I moved from Ohio to the Idaho panhandle 42 years ago, at 22. I learned early on that race was a subject to leave alone. It was academic, since there were no black folks around anyway, but since 2008, I’ve been astonished at how prevalent the bigotry is even among folks I thought I knew. The attitude seems to be passed down, generation to generation, without much thought involved (or black folks around to counter ignorance with example). When I do challenge folks, they don’t really seem to know why they hold the attitudes, but they’re still vehement in their certainty. Pandering to the Rabid Right in the press, quoting fools like Bundy, seems to give license to make the n-word socially acceptable in public places, rather than the opposite. What to do? Wish I knew.

  9. Here is a link to the ACTUAL CONTEXT of Cliven’s NOT RACIST in any way remarks but it’s really interesting how you have an agenda to discredit anyone who stands against the illegal actions of the federal government and supports people who do.


    Colleen Lloyd · Associate Editor – Writer at Las Vegas Tribune
    I guess the black people and natives and Mexicans there were White Supremacist too LOL – the media is clearly out to stereotype Cliven and his supporters, many of whom are vets and decent hard-working family people who are and educated and aware and have great long-standing relationships with native people. I was attacked for days non-stop on comment threads by brainwashed hateful idiots who are talking out their asses who don’t know anything about the Bundys or treaty or federal law or the background of the issue or situation but they love to pass their worthle…

  10. Clive has lied to all his supporters. He has no claim or ancestry to the land. He moved there when he was 2. His supporters are simply people who hate the government and think there should be no laws. For no reason except they all want to feel powerful

    Sadly for you, the rest of the world thinks he is a racist. And, worse, you know nothing of the law. That land was seceded to the feds a very long time ago. There are no treatys giving him any part of that land, it is not land that belongs to the state or anything else. YOU need to stop giving your opinion when you know nothing

  11. Fact: Sending military down to his ranch and over reacting when this matter could have been resolved in a down played manner without spending all the money and man power that was used for one old man and his cattle.
    – Lie. Military? Bureau of Land Management is not the military. Bundy freeloaded for 2 decades and, lost in court multiple times. If any businessman refuses to pay taxes, seizure of assets is a well recognized alternative.

    Fact: Reason for folk in the area and Tea Party folk rallying around him was because of the over-reaction of the government on this matter
    – BS. “Over-reaction”? Court cases and accommodations failed to get his cooperation with the law. Many local ranchers pay their own grazing fees and see Bundy for the cheat he is. Many came from out of state to promote a civil war. The cowards were planning to put women “in front” to get shot first. I guess we weren’t to fear – the children would be put in front of the women, so …

    Bundy is just a bum.

  12. And being part of the baby boom generation means he’s too young to give him a pass on cultural progress.

  13. The idea that the full context of his remarks somehow demonstrates he isn’t a racist would be amusing if it weren’t so pathetic. Do they add a layer of nuance to his views? Yes, I suppose. But in no way do they somehow mitigate his racism which is plain for all to see and is so patently obvious that it amazes me that anyone could see the remarks as anything but racist.

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