Sheriff Rogers distances himself from Bundy after racial comments, but questions whether he's a racist
Editor's note: The story has been corrected in the 13th paragraph to reflect that Rogers was at part of the news conference when Bundy made his racial comments, though not when he actually made the remarks.
Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers is putting distance, some anyway, between himself and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in the wake of Bundy's controversial racial comments.
But he questions whether the man is a racist.
"I do not know if he is racist; I really doubt that he is," Rogers said in a post on his Facebook page Friday, April 25.
The sheriff, who visited Bundy's ranch from April 18-20 as the Nevada man's dispute with federal authorities heated up, noted that during his stay, he saw black men serving as Bundy's bodyguards. He also said The New York Times, which reported on the remarks on Wednesday, took the comments out of context.
Bundy "was certainly trying to emphasize the ramifications of government assistance. But, to broad-brush all people in these circumstances is naive at best," Rogers' Facebook post said.
Still, Rogers offered condemning words about Bundy's racial comments, the topic of national media debate since the New York Times coverage. "...I consider his comments unacceptable and horrendous that he would suggest that people would be better in slavery. That conclusion flies in the face of the history and documented experiences about slavery," Rogers' Facebook post said.
Rogers visited Bundy's ranch in Bunkerville, Nev., as a show of solidarity with critics of moves by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to enforce a prohibition on grazing on public land there by Bundy's cattle. Bundy asserted what he said was his right to let the cattle roam and the situation turned into an armed showdown between federal authorities and critics of federal government overreach, like Rogers.
Media attention in Bunkerville escalated and then intensified after Bundy's racial comments went public. In the comments, made during a news conference on April 19, Bundy discussed a visit past a public-housing project in the Las Vegas area and wondered whether black people would be "better off as slaves."
'REALLY DON'T KNOW HIM'
Despite his visit to Bunkerville, Rogers claimed no great insight into Bundy's character.
"I really don't know him; nor have I ever claimed to be unified with him on all ethics, standards and beliefs," Rogers said in an email to The Elkhart Truth.
Rather, his aim in visiting Bunkerville — a trip that has generated a strong reaction in Elkhart County, for and against — was to spur the local sheriff to get involved in the conflict, mediate a solution.
"Even if it turns out that Bundy is a racist or a weirdo, why would we not want to support a peaceful resolution to the Bundy Ranch situation?" Rogers said in his email. "We are supposedly a community of peace-loving people in Elkhart County. Where are the peacemakers?"
Rogers appeared at the news conference during which Bundy made his racial remarks, the sheriff said in his e-mail. But he wasn't there when Bundy actually made the comments and didn't learn of them, he said, until they were broadly divulged Thursday. Video of the event shows Bundy calling Rogers forward and shaking his hand, about 15 minutes after the racial comments.
The Elkhart County sheriff spoke at a separate media event in Nevada on Sunday, he said, and Bundy was not there.