Bundy, Sterling, and Reconciling Racially Hateful Speech With Freedom

The most effective equalizer for hatred is the free market.


Reason TV/Screenshot

Cliven Bundy should be happy for the public revelation of the private comments of fellow racist Donald Sterling. The latter has replaced the former as the person Americans most love to hate. These two bigots recently spewed racial hatred: Bundy suggesting that African-Americans might do well to consider slavery over freedom, and Sterling offering disjointed comments that reveal his evident beliefs in white supremacy.

Bundy is a Nevada rancher who became a hero to the right for standing up to the heavy hand of federal suppression of property rights in the West. He and his family had been grazing their cattle on land they believed was theirs or the state of Nevada's for more than 100 years when along came the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which claimed the land and assessed Bundy for his use of it. A federal judge upheld the claims and the million-dollar assessment; yet Bundy refused to pay. Instead of filing the judgment in a courthouse, as you and I would do if we had a judgment against Bundy, the feds showed up with 200 camouflage-clad machine gun-bearing federal agents determined to steal Bundy's cattle.

Soon, thousands of Nevadans showed up to support Bundy, whereupon the feds enacted a "free speech zone." They ordered the protesters either to remain silent, or to enter the zone and protest there. The zone was a 25-square-yard patch of earth in the Nevada desert, three miles from the Bundy/BLM confrontation site.

Sterling is a billionaire who owns the Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and was a hero to the left for his public support of liberal causes. He has given generously to the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP and to the Democratic Party in California. He is white, married, and apparently enjoys the company of a biracial girlfriend. Recordings of his several wild, weird, disjointed rants directed to the girlfriend and uttered in the privacy of his own home have been played publicly. In them, Sterling directs his girlfriend not to attend Clipper games in the company of her African-American friends.

Both of these men used hateful and hurtful words that were animated by truly condemnable attitudes about race. No moral person credibly could suggest that slavery is preferable to freedom, and no moral person credibly could suggest that whites are superior to blacks in any respect. Those were attitudes advanced by antebellum slave owners and 20th-century supporters of laws that used the machinery of government to harm blacks during the 100 years following the Civil War.

All rational people, understanding the colorblindness of the natural law, have a moral obligation—but not a legal one—to publicly treat persons of different races with equal dignity and respect. I can morally prefer a friend or a mate who is of my race, but I cannot morally hate a potential friend or mate just because the person is not of my race. I do not know what is in their hearts, but Bundy and Sterling are apparently haters.

What to do with them because of their speech? Nothing. I mean nothing. Racially hateful speech is protected from government interference by the First Amendment, which largely was written to protect hateful speech. Neither Bundy nor Sterling has been accused in these instances of racially motivated conduct—just speech animated by hatred.

In the Bundy case, the feds did suppress speech by keeping it three miles away from them. Free speech, assembly, and the right to petition the government would become empty and meaningless if the governmental targets of the speech and assembly could not hear it. The First Amendment will condone outlawing the use of a bullhorn by protesters in front of a hospital at 3 o'clock in the morning. But it will not condone free speech zones for the sake of government convenience. The entire United States of America is a free speech zone.

In Sterling's case, is it fair to punish someone for speech uttered in the privacy of his home? It would be exquisitely unfair for the government to do so, but the NBA is not the government. When Sterling bought his basketball team, he agreed to accept punishment for conduct unbecoming a team owner or conduct detrimental to the sport. Is speech conduct? For constitutional purposes, it is not; the Constitution does not restrain the NBA. It is free to pull the trigger of punishment to which Sterling consented.

But it needn't do so.

Hateful and hurtful words have natural and probable consequences where the people are free to counter them. The government has no business cleansing the public marketplace of hateful ideas. The most effective equalizer for hatred is the free market. It will remedy Sterling's hatred far more effectively than the NBA can. As advertisers and sponsors and fans desert Sterling-owned properties, he will be forced to sell them, lest his financial losses become catastrophic. And it has removed Bundy from the public stage altogether.

But don't hold your breath waiting for the forces of freedom to nullify hatred. Soon the forces of darkness will attempt to do so as creative prosecutors and hungry litigators bring the government into the fray. I hope they stay home and follow the natural law principle of subsidiarity, which mandates that public problems be solved using the minimum force necessary, not the maximum force possible—and no force at all where peaceful measures are just as effective.

I would not invite Bundy or Sterling into my home, nor would I befriend them. But I will defend with zeal and diligence their constitutional freedoms.

NEXT: Brickbat: You Gotta Have Faith

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  1. I have no criticism whatsoever of this article — Napolitano nailed it, IMO.

  2. Bundy suggesting that African-Americans might do well to consider slavery over freedom…

    I don’t believe that was his intent. It seemed more like he was attempting to convey, albeit inarticulately, that the welfare state was destroying the permanent welfare class, and using slavery to make the point. But a person who uses the word Negro and has publicly gone against the government isn’t going to get to have that conversation, artfully otherwise or not.

    1. Reading Bundy’s remarks, it seemed to me that he held the sort of antiquated views on race that you might not be surprised at by an elderly rural Mormon who grew up in a Church that didn’t allow blacks to hold the priesthood or become members until the 1970s.

      Mixed in with these pernicious views were some astute albeit inarticulate remarks on how the government has fucked over blacks in the guise of helping them, and fucked over ranchers in the guise of helping tortoises that the government later killed when they become inconvenient.

      1. Wow, killing the turtles must have been difficult. I mean, stomping on them just disables them for a brief period and then they’re back to normal. You have to knock them off a cliff or shoot them with a fireball.

        1. Wow, killing the turtles must have been difficult.

          You could kick them.


          In your face space coyote.

      2. That is, the sort of doublethink that occurs in some Mormons who believe “The Prophet Is Never Wrong TM”, yet are old enough to have known several such prophets articulating changes and reverses in Church policy, and thus being led to simultaneously think that every one of these contradictory statements are all true.

        That being said, I’d bet Bundy actually treats the blacks he meets with genuine kindness, because he wants to convert them and get them to The Best Of The Three Heavens TM.

        1. That being said, I’d bet Bundy actually treats the blacks he meets with genuine kindness, because he wants to convert them and get them to The Best Of The Three Heavens TM.

          Regardless as to what his theology demands it would appear that he hopes for better things for urban blacks than living out their days on a section 8 plantation.

          1. Apparently, wanting blacks to be free to live without the alleged blessings bestowed on them by paternalistic white liberals who think blacks are incapable of making good choices without the guidance of their betters, makes one a racist.

            The paternalistic white liberals who think blacks need their care and guidance are, obviously, not racists.


        2. That is, the sort of doublethink that occurs in some Mormons who believe “The Prophet Is Never Wrong TM”, yet are old enough to have known several such prophets articulating changes and reverses in Church policy, and thus being led to simultaneously think that every one of these contradictory statements are all true.

          Not really so different from Roman Catholicism’s infallibility of the Pope.

      3. “who grew up in a Church that didn’t allow blacks to hold the priesthood or become members until the 1970s.”

        You may want to fact check that statement. Blacks were allowed to be members of the LDS or Mormon church prior to the 1970s. The prohibition was on the ability of black male members to hold the priesthood. This is not meant as a defence of that policy, it is merely meant to clarify the facts.

        1. Googled it:


          You are technically correct, but it was worse than that:

          “In June of 1978, the LDS-owned Deseret News newspaper printed an announcement by the LDS First Presidency stating that God, by revelation, would now allow all worthy male members in the LDS Church to receive the priesthood as well as “blessings of the temple.” (Deseret News, 6/9/78, 1A). This “revelation,” known as Official Declaration 2, can be found in printed form at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.”

          From here:


          So, blacks could be baptized and join the Church, but male members could not obtain the priesthood, AND no blacks, male or female, could get Temple Recommends — which means they could not get celestially married — which is a HUGE deal to Mormons — AND they could not go to the Temple with their white peers and do Temple ordinances.

          Also a huge deal.

          1. As I said, not a defense merely a clarification. You are correct that it was and still is a big deal. It was then because of the access denied based on race. It still sits wrong with many members of the Church.

            As an interesting aside there were in fact three or four black members of the LDS church prior to 1978 that held the Priesthood. Elijah Abel, his son, and grandson being three of them.

            1. I had my facts wrong, and you pointed out my error. Thanks!

    2. That was my impression as well. Uneducated doofus inserts boot in mouth.

      Also, he sabotaged himself unnecessarily. There was no need for him to bring up that issue. It is funny how often people use their 15 minutes of fame to discredit themselves.

      1. Try this: have people who hate you for your ideological views follow you around all day long for about a week, filming your every word, and doing a hard edit cutting out the 99% of your utterances that make you look good, and playing the 1% that make you look bad.

        Think that will turn out well for you?

        That’s what happened.

        1. Been there, done that. The only way to win is to keep your mouth entirely shut.

        2. Year, the statist spin-doctors were willing to bargain their souls for the opportunity to craft the perfect Bundy hit piece after the BLM got its ass handed to it, and they were richly rewarded. Bundy was all too willing to put bullets in their guns… Na?ve? maybe.. Apathetic? probably.. Brutally honest about his own opinions? absolutely.. But, I suppose I wouldn’t expect to find Ivy league refinement in an elder cattle rancher from Nevada, because I wouldn’t go looking for it there…

      2. Bundy was set up by the New York Times reporter just as Sterling was by his girlfriend. I always wondered how and why Bundy got on the subject of race. Apparently the reporter at his press conference started asking him leading questions about how white his supporters were, no doubt figuring that he’d get exactly the answer he got. Score one for the NYT.

        As for Sterling, listening to his girlfriend’s tapes I never heard him say anything that horrifying. He just didn’t like that his woman was being seen in public with black men, which is something that to his 80 year old brain…just ain’t right. Now he may be as racist as any klansman in 1950s Mississippi, but you don’t hear that on the tapes.

  3. Raaaacist!!

  4. Bundy’s full comments are reprinted below, with the parts not printed by the New York Times and other media outlets highlighted in bold.

    ?” and so what I’ve testified to ya’, I was in the WATTS riot, I seen the beginning fire and I seen the last fire. What I seen is civil disturbance. People are not happy, people is thinking they did not have their freedom; they didn’t have these things, and they didn’t have them.

    We’ve progressed quite a bit from that day until now, and sure don’t want to go back; we sure don’t want the colored people to go back to that point; we sure don’t want the Mexican people to go back to that point; and we can make a difference right now by taking care of some of these bureaucracies, and do it in a peaceful way.

    Let me tell.. talk to you about the Mexicans, and these are just things I know about the negroes. I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro.

    When I go, went, go to Las Vegas, North Las Vegas; and I would see these little government houses, and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids?. and there was always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch. They didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for the kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for the young girls to do.


    1. And because they were basically on government subsidy ? so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never, they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered are they were better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things? Or are they better off under government subsidy?

      You know they didn’t get more freedom, uh they got less freedom ? they got less family life, and their happiness -you could see it in their faces- they were not happy sitting on that concrete sidewalk. Down there they was probably growing their turnips ? so that’s all government, that’s not freedom.

      Now, let me talk about the Spanish people. You know I understand that they come over here against our constitution and cross our borders. But they’re here and they’re people ? and I’ve worked side-by-side a lot of them.

      Don’t tell me they don’t work, and don’t tell me they don’t pay taxes. And don’t tell me they don’t have better family structure than most of us white people. When you see those Mexican families, they’re together, they picnic together, they’re spending their time together, and I’ll tell you in my way of thinking they’re awful nice people.

      And we need to have those people join us and be with us?. not, not come to our party.


      1. Yeah, it was his full comments I was going by. The Times certainly had their fun with cutting that up.

        1. Yeah, he was mighty naive to talk to anyone from the NYT, or really any of the reporters. Might cost him his ranch and cattle, since now people are gonna be leery of supporting him vs. the BLM.

      2. Wow! I hadn’t seen that. There’s more sincerity and genuine concern in those comments than an army of stuck-up, sanctimonious white liberal hypocrites screaming about how much they hate rednecks and such.

      3. The assumption that spending more of the taxpayers money will make things better has survived all kinds of evidence that it has made things worse. The black family which survived slavery, discrimination, poverty, wars, and the depression began to come apart as the federal government moved in with its well-financed programs to help.

        – Thomas Sowell

  5. Were this Sterling character a bit more intellectual than a fence post, he could have instructed his hook?eh?girlfriend to never bring any Democrats over.

    Think about it. It would have largely accomplished his original intent without all of the hoopla.

    1. We found your typewriter!… nobody believes you now..

    2. The difference between a hooker and a GF and a wife can be a lot blurrier than is usually supposed.

      Not always, of course.

      1. I suppose the blurriness depends on how much alcohol is involved.

      2. Yes, the hookers are usually a hell of a lot more honest about what they do for a living.

        1. Had another candid conversation with my GF this morning, who wants to get married badly (and likely would marry … badly). Told her that marriage can (though not always, of course) result in some screwed up incentives, and that people always respond to incentives.

  6. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the forces of freedom to nullify hatred.

    Because the forces of hatred have almost nullified freedom?

  7. This is the first I’m hearing of any notion that the government might intervene in these people’s thoughts and speech.

    1. I’m guessing this is sarcasm, but apparently more than one Tony posts here, so might be clueless Team Blue stuff.

  8. Oh boy, Sterling.

    Wasn’t he just feeling emasculated because the hooker he had on retainer was publicly screwing around? Or is he racist? Geez I’m pissed I have to keep caring about this.

  9. The judge keeps making a mistake here, he keeps saying that since Bundy’s cows were on federal land the government was limited to a lien on his property. This is not true if a person leaves his stuff on my land and he does not remove when ordered to I can do whatever I like with his property, mainly sell it. Landlords and storage facilities and yes Banks do this all the time. In Bundy’s case though it is strange that the government waited 20 years to do anything and thats where you have to ask is why such a hurry now and why such a show of force? I think it is just Harry Reid looking to make an example of a so called republican.
    Clarifications I don’t classify people like Bundy or the Militia or Nazi as Republican or Democrat they are in a world of their own making and I wish everyone would start treating those groups as outsiders of any group since they do hate all groups except for the one they belong to and then only grudgingly.

    1. Apparently Harry Reid’s son has a financial interest in having the government take over the land, so it’s not just about screwing over Republicans.

    2. The newsworthiness comes from the fact that the guy had armed militia members defending his stolen property. Might makes right!

      1. “Might makes right!”

        Throwing bricks around in glass houses. Again. Still.

      2. Cart before the horse asshole.

  10. One could search mightily and expect on most days (months?) to be disappointed in ones quest for exemplars of justice and liberty. With this fine offering judge Napolitano proves that such an exemplar can still be found.

  11. “Bundy suggesting that African-Americans might do well to consider slavery over freedom,”
    No he said that blacks might have been happier under slavery than under what they have now, which is certainly not “freedom”. He never suggested that they would or should choose slavery.

  12. Judge Neapolitan ought to go beyond the NYT hatchet job next time.

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