LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada rancher at the center of a national feud with the federal government over cattle grazing is facing sharp criticism for racist comments he made that were published in a New York Times article.

Cliven Bundy was quoted in the Times story making disparaging remarks about blacks and asking whether they were better off as slaves.

The article published Wednesday says Bundy's comments came during a long speech at a sparsely attended news conference Saturday.

Politicians including Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller issued statements condemning the remarks.

Heller last week called Bundy defenders "patriots" for their stand against the government

Bundy has become a conservative folk hero for resisting attempts by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to round up hundreds of his cattle the agency says are trespassing on public land.