April 16th, 2010
06:00 PM ET
8 years ago

Clinton warns against violent anti-government attitude

(CNN) - Former President Bill Clinton said he sees parallels in the mood of the country now and on April 19, 1995, when the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people while he was in the White House.

"There's the same kind of economic and social upheaval now," the former president told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview to air on Friday on "The Situation Room."

"Then you had the rise of extremist voices on talk radio. Here you have a billion Internet sites," Clinton said.

And while the hard-core, anti-government radicals are still a minority, "they can communicate with each other much faster and much better than they did before. The main thing that bothered us since the time of Oklahoma City was that already there was enough use of the Internet that if you knew how to find a Web site - and not everybody even had a computer back then, but if you knew how to find it, you could learn, for example, how to make a bomb."

"Now everybody has got a computer, Web sites are easily accessible. And you can be highly selective and spend all of your time with people that are, you know, kind of out there with you," he continued.

Clinton said the Oklahoma City bombing - then the worst terror attack in U.S. history - was the "last in a series of very high-profile violent encounters" during the 1990s between anti-government activists and authorities.

Clinton said that the country is better protected to prevent such an attack now than it was then but when asked if the anti-government mood now is more intense than in the 1990s, Clinton said, "Now there are all of these groups, you know, saying things like the current political debate is just a prelude to civil war, all of that kind of stuff."

In an interview with the New York Times on Friday, Clinton warned of the affect that angry political rhetoric might have on anti-government radicals like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, pointing to Rep. Michele Bachmann calling the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress "the gangster government" in speaking to a tax day Tea Party rally on Thursday.

"They are not gangsters," Clinton told the newspaper. "They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do."

Clinton said demonizing the government with incendiary language can have effects beyond just rallying a crowd.

"There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do," Clinton told the newspaper - pointing out that McVeigh and his conspirators "were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line."

But Clinton said he didn't want to draw too tight of an analogy between then and now. And that it's not his intent to stifle criticism of government.

"I'm not interested in gagging anybody. I actually love this political debate," Clinton said.

"Most of the Tea Party people, though, are explicitly political. You've got to give that now," he said. "Forget about whether we disagree with them or not. It's really important to be able to criticize your government and criticize elected officials. That doesn't bother me."

"Most of them have been well within bounds," Clinton also said. "And they're harsh but limited criticism, in other words, they're not advocating violence or encouraging other people to do it."

"But I just think that we have to be careful," the former president added. "We've been down this road on more than one occasion before. We don't want to go down it again."

Filed under: Bill Clinton
soundoff (303 Responses)
  1. Texas Doc

    We need to rid ourselves of these America hating teabaggers. They are dangerous terrorists and have no place in civil society.

    April 16, 2010 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  2. kyle from ohio

    Well said Mr President

    April 16, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  3. dan smith

    Yeah well why is Obama close friends with a known terrorist then?

    April 16, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  4. Marco

    Former President Clinton is 100% right on this one. Violent extremism is not acceptable by any means in a so-called democracy. People who are inciting violence against the federal government or Congress just because they don't agree with any of their policies certainly don't know what the word democracy means. If they are unhappy with their elected officials then go to the polls and VOTE accordingly.

    April 16, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  5. omg

    Ah, good old fashioned common sense. Just wait for the right-wing, hate and fear mongering extremist fools to attack him.

    April 16, 2010 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  6. steven harnack

    Nowadays you even have to walk a fine line when you are calling crazy people what they are, crazies, lest the republicans accuse you of slandering their base. you know what the Islamic radicals call their base? Al-Qaeda!

    April 16, 2010 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. TODD

    It's just a matter of time before someone really gets hurt. I can see it now, no one is going take responsibilty when someone dies. These tea party people are on the WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY.
    Could you imagine a liberal wanting their state to sucede from the United States because they didn't agree with the bogus war in Iraq.
    They certainly would have been called un American, what makes this different??

    April 16, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Well put former President Clinton and because the we've been down that road our Government too is better informed and prepared for those who want to do harm. If there are those who want to do harm like McVeigh I believe this government already knows who you are. If you've ever had a background check that's more than enough to tell you what is known about you.

    April 16, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  9. J.S.

    Since when is expressing opposing views make an American citizen violent...??

    April 16, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  10. dan smith

    Maybe Clinton should get his head out of the sand. The Oklahoma city bombing had nothing to do with the tea party movement, it was a response to Clinton's handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge by a couple of sociopaths and nothing more. I would be more concerned with the left wing nut jobs that have proven on many occasions, a proclivity for violence. Can anyone say, Black Panthers, all the radical Vietnam protesters that used bombs to kill cops, and of course Bill Ayers, one of Obama's closest friends.

    April 16, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  11. rob

    Try as you may to cast dispersion on these Tea Partiers, the vast majority are just regular Americans who are fed up with the Govt spending and waste that will cause massive tax increases in the future.

    It is very scary that the Democrats and their friends in the Media are trying to stop them speaking by marginalizing them. They try to make the Tea Partiers look dark and sinister and possibly violent. Dems label them racists, haters, anti women, anti gay "TEA BAGGERS" and on and on and on. Even the President dismisses the group and their concerns with jokes. The only violence associated with this group is from members of the SEIU who beat a Tea Party member who happened to be black after a meeting and try to intimidate anyone who dares disagree with the current leadership.

    Try all you want, the election in November will be the test. The Dems fear the results and that's why they will try to demonize this group. What will they do if their is a landslide for Republicans and the Dems lose control of Congress? Will they say that all Americans are RACISTS, BIGOTS, HOMOPHOBES, HATERS etc?

    I can't wait to find out. Nov. 2, 2010 can't come fast enough

    April 16, 2010 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  12. Jack

    I am not in agreement with Mr. Clinton often, but this time I am!

    April 16, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  13. Albert

    Do you know the Tea Party's theme song? Yup, the Beatles "Happiness is a warm gun." No? Then why all their rhetoric about "targets" and "reload" and online crosshairs on their opponents. They've yet to learn that the handshake is stronger than the fist.

    April 16, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |

    So how is this any different than people protesting against the war in Viet Nam which was a protest about a policy by our government that the public didn't agree with?Selective memory is such a strange thing.

    April 16, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  15. T'SAH from Virginia

    That's right Bill – Tell it to the RADICALS who are repeatedly hearing what they interpret as HATRED over and over again.

    The protesters have the right to protest and express their opinions. But, it's the KEY WORDS that most of them 'knowingly' use in order to 'set off" a person who is already upset and on the verge 'teeing' off.

    April 16, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  16. Annie, Atlanta

    It's that this nonsense intensifies during a Democratic President's administration. What, it's only fair if Republicans win? Are these people so connived by Fox News (sic) lies that they aren't aware of the damage Bush caused? And if they are aware, where was the outrage then? Do they know we may never recover from those 8 years? Are they just sore losers? Is this what this is? A temper tantrum equipped with hate and guns? God help us.

    April 16, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  17. Marc

    'But Clinton said he didn't want to draw too tight of an analogy between then and now. And that it's not his intent to stifle criticism of government.'

    Mr. Clinton, you are making a huge mistake.
    The fact that you are still breathing, the fact that you are still relevant to this country and the fact that you were a POTUS once are 'reasons' good enough for some people to criticize you AND the government.
    That's their Constitutional right.
    That, as you put it clearly ('It's really important to be able to criticize your government and criticize elected officials. That doesn't bother me'), you are NOT interested in taking it from them.
    You just want some good old common sense from them.
    It will be a long wait...

    April 16, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  18. Mike in NYC

    Of course, when "your" government does things like effectively posting a WELCOME INVADERS sign at the border, contrary to the wishes of a large majority of citizens, don't be surprised if the temperature rises a bit.

    A distant fed gov that progressively (pun intended) amasses more and more power will inevitably produce suspicion and alienation. Wise people recognized this some two hundred and thirty years ago. Somewhere along the way, we forgot.

    April 16, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  19. MJ

    Why doesn't CNN have anything to say about the couple that was attacked outside of a GOP Convention? They only want to report the negative when it relates to Democrats favor. This woman had her leg broken in 5 places. Who owes them an apology? Obama may joke about the Tea Parties – it is not funny. We are in a serious crisis. Taxes WILL go up, along with a VAT to everything that is sold.

    April 16, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  20. All of america

    Then if this is the case,obama and this demacratic administration needs to be replaced with one that does what the majority of the people want,not what the government want the people to accept. obama and his followers brought all of this on themselves

    April 16, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  21. Sam Ellison

    You know things have gotten bad when Clinton is making sense...

    April 16, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  22. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    "[The Democratic government] are not gangsters," Clinton told the newspaper. "They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do."

    The "Democratic government," like the Republican government before it, elected or not, routinely violates the American Constitution. Ignoring laws is rather suggestive of gangster-like behaviour, don't you think?

    And as to "They are not doing anything they were not elected to do," actually, yes they are. A majority of Americans have clearly said that they did not want passed, and do want repealed, Obamacare. Congress and Obama are explicitly doing things in contravention of the wishes of the American people, and they sure weren't elected to do that.

    And, finally, if war is the eventual outcome of the current fury, it will be more in the nature of the American Revolution against a distant, arrogant, indifferent government, that

    "Has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance,"

    "Subject[s] us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation,"

    "Impos[es] Taxes on us without our Consent,"

    All of the above quoted directly from the Declaration of Independence.

    April 16, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  23. Dar

    "But I just think that we have to be careful," the former president added. "We've been down this road on more than one occasion before. We don't want to go down it again."

    IT is to late Billy boy, it isnt a road that the people are on any longer, it's a freeway and they are coming like a freight train and gaining power every day. Odumbo is much of the cause with his smart remarks and arrogant attitude toward people of a different party.
    Odumbo love's this crap, he acts as if he want's to divide us. I for one and IM sure a few more are sick of his lies and deceit.


    April 16, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    THANK YOU BILL!!! Thank you for saying what's beenonthe inds of so many of us, except that WE can't say it without being called 'something'.

    This pointedly focused use of incendiary language on the part of very prominent idiots like Bachman, Palin,et al MUST BE ADDRESSED. And you're quite correct in saying that a normal person would not be provoked into violence by listening to their inciteful vitriol. HOWEVER, the lunatics amongst us are folks that live very insulated and isolated lives, and with the easy connection to websites of like-minded others the another Timothy McVeigh type is well within the realm of probability.

    All I'm asking for is responsible speech on the part of these public figures. My dislike of the Bachmann and Palin types stems NOT from the fact that we differ in our politcal outlook, but in their BLATANT DISPLAY OF IRRESPONSIBILITY when expressing their views.As ill-informed as they appear to be THEY MUST know that there are those out there that could be driven to do the unspeakable after listening to them.

    I also find it very interesting that these two women, Palin and Bachmann would not know that there are men out there who admire their type of beauty. There have been many cases of maladjusted men who have been 'driven' to commit serious crimes in the hopes of pleasing the object of their obsession.

    April 16, 2010 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  25. The Unsub

    I agree. While the Tea Partiers are runnin around with wigs on, dressed like John Adams, firing muskets, wearing hats with tea bags hanging off of them, real Americans are at work trying to make a living. Not driving around the country in RVs.....Puhleeze!!!!!!

    April 16, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
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