Georgia Senate candidate Derrick Grayson didn't have much going on last Saturday so he headed out to Nevada to check out Cliven Bundy's ranch and meet with the rancher whose armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, and whose musings about "the negro" and slavery, caused successive waves of headlines and national curiosity.
"That particular Saturday, I didn't have anything on my schedule," Grayson, who is black, told ABC News in a phone interview. "I wasn't going to campaign. I had the time, so I decided to fly out there on my own nickel to say hello."
The network engineer, faith-based volunteer, first-time candidate and self-proclaimed "minister of truth," is fighting an uphill battle for Georgia's Republican Senate nomination, running in a seven-way May 20 primary against David Perdue, the businessman, former Dollar General CEO, and cousin of former governor Sonny Perdue; the Sarah-Palin-endorsed former Georgia secretary of State Karen Handel; GOP Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, and Jack Kingston; and patent attorney Art Gardner.
Grayson records YouTube videos on politics from his car and operates an all-volunteer campaign staff.
After Bundy speculated that African-Americans might be better off as slaves, prompting erstwhile supporters in the national political sphere to yank any potential affiliation, Grayson did the opposite.
He recorded a YouTube video defending Bundy and remarking: "What the man said is nothing I have not said. Now some people might be trippin' because he used the word 'colored,' but that's what they used to call us back in the day," accusing the national media of seeking to divide Americans and detract from the substance of Bundy's dispute with BLM by emphasizing his comments on race.
Grayson promised in that same video to visit Bundy after his May 20 primary, but with a free day, he flew out early.
Grayson described the experience to ABC News.
"I went out there to show my support for him, because I understand the seriousness of government overreach, and I wanted to thank him for being an example of how an American stands up to tyrannical rule," Grayson said, calling the visit "enlightening."
"[I] toured the ranch, I met the militia members," Grayson said.
He and Bundy "hung out, laughed, and we talked about his issues. I got a firsthand account about what's going on. Rumors were dispelled about infighting between militia members, which was not the case."
Grayson called Bundy a "personable man, very friendly, and he's a Constitutionalist."
About 100 supporters are still gathered on Bundy's ranch, Grayson told ABC. In support of Bundy's resistance to BLM's attempt to seize his cattle herd, after he illegally grazed them on federally owned land, supporters gathered at Bundy's ranch outside Las Vegas last month, many of them bearing sidearms.
Last month, BLM spokesman Craig Leff, told The New York Times that BLM had shifted focus from its attempt to confiscate Bundy's cattle.
"Our focus is pursuing this matter administratively and judicially," Leff told the paper.
"This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public lands ranchers do every year," BLM Director Neil Kornze said in an April 12 statement provided to ABC News.
Grayson told ABC they're now arranged in several campsites, their food stored in a makeshift warehouse lined with canned goods, bottled water and gatorade. One man with an RV lets Bundy supporters use his shower; on some days, supporters rent hotel rooms in which they can bathe. A "sentry" with a walkie-talkie prevents just anyone from wandering up to Bundy's house.
"Imagine roughing it, that's what they were doing," Grayson said.
Grayson wasn't the only black person there. He told ABC that he met two others who support Bundy in his struggle with BLM - and he stood by his assessment that Bundy is not a racist, comparing him to primary opponent Rep. Jack Kingston, who drew criticism for suggesting poor students should sweep cafeteria floors to accrue a work ethic.
"I understand where he was coming from. He maybe chose the wrong analogy like Mr. Kingston did," Grayson told ABC of Bundy's comment that the struggles of low-income African-Americans arose "because they never learned to pick cotton."
Neither man is a racist, and Bundy's comment was "not offensive,' Grayson said, telling ABC that government assistance has "created a culture of generational welfare" for African-Americans.
"My grandmother who picked cotton, and my mom who picked cotton as a child, my grandmother had a work ethic," Grayson added. "She had 13 children that she had to raise and ended up for a time moving into the projects, but because my grandmother had a work ethic, she didn't stay in the projects … that's not how she wanted to raise her children."
One of Grayson's campaign volunteers originally filmed Bundy making those now-infamous remarks, Grayson said. Jason Patrick had traveled to Nevada to support Bundy, posting videos from the ranch on an account at the video site Bambuser throughout April. The full interview of Bundy, posted by Patrick, was later clipped and posted elsewhere, Grayson said.
The two did talk about race during Grayson's visit.
"Race doesn't matter to the people who are violating our constitutional principles," Grayson said, "but they make it matter to keep us divided."
One thing Grayson didn't come away with: a campaign contribution.
"I certainly didn't ask him for a donation, and nobody on my team better not have either, because that's not why I went out there," he said.
This post was updated with further comment from the Bureau of Land Management.
- Politics & Government
- Cliven Bundy