Bundy, appearing on CNN's "New Day" program, denied he was a racist and said he didn't mean to offend anyone when he suggested blacks where better off as slaves "picking cotton." But he suggested the country in general — and blacks in particular — have become overly sensitive to racial terms, and he bemoaned a society that doesn't afford him the "freedom" to fully express himself without fear of backlash.
"You know, maybe I sinned and maybe I need to ask forgiveness and maybe I don't know what I actually said," the embattled cattle rancher told CNN. "But, you know, when you talk about prejudice, we're talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings. We're not freedom — we don't have freedom to say what we want."
He added that if he uses the words "Negro or black boy or slave" and that "if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive, then Martin Luther King hasn't got his job done yet."
"I should be able to say those things and they shouldn't offend anybody. I didn't mean to offend them."
Political figures and commentators — including many who previously supported Bundy's dispute with the federal government over cattle-grazing rights — quickly denounced him Thursday after his initial racially charged comments were reported in the New York Times.
The paper reported that Bundy, while speaking with supporters and a reporter Saturday, recalled a time driving past a public-housing development in North Las Vegas, Nev., and seeing African-Americans on porches with "nothing to do."
"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?" the paper reported him as saying. "They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Bundy hit the national spotlight earlier this month over his fight with the Bureau of Land Management, which says he has trespassed on federal lands in southern Nevada with his cattle since the 1990s and owes more than $1 million in back grazing fees.
The bureau earlier this month seized about 400 head of cattle but released the animals days later in an attempt to ease escalating tensions after angry protesters — many armed with guns — gathered at his ranch in his support.
Bundy says he doesn't recognize federal authority of the land and insists it belongs to Nevada.