April 16th, 2010
06:00 PM ET
4 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. Bob in Pa

    This is now going too far. There are far too many Progressives in politics that want to kill free speech in America when it doesn't match their own ideals. Having Bill Clinton talk about Hard Core Anti-government radicals like they were Al-Qaida is just taking it too far. A group of 4 or 5 mentally unbalanced individuals is not cause for this type of divisive rhetoric.

    A good majority of the media and Democrat politicians are all out there saying how Scary, Racist, Mean Spirited, Violent and Pushing the Limits of Free Speech these Tea Party groups are.? Yes, the vast majority of these middle aged and senior citizens at these events are all that. What's truly scary is the fact that most of them sit down in lawn chairs during portions of the protest. What really makes me quiver all over is when one of them wants to tell me about their children or grand children.

    We need to send you all to a G8 or G20 summit to learn what ugly civil disobedience really is. These events and 99.99999% of the people involved are nothing more than peacefully expressing their views. However, there is always the case that some politicians, the media and lying bloggers want to create a near self fulfilling prophecy so that they can wield their goose stepping boots against the freedom.

    Maybe President Obama needs to sit down and have a Beer with Bill and the Tea Party.

    April 16, 2010 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  2. GI Joe

    NOT inciting violence? Come on, Bill, the screeching lying pretty girls are nice to look at, but if they are NOT inciting violence, I'll eat my hat.

    April 16, 2010 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  3. annie s

    The hatred and anti-government furor is spread via the Internet, but it was fueled by Republican politicians with Sarah Palin at the helm. Palin, Limbaugh and Beck are the three most dangerous and traitorous people in America today.

    April 16, 2010 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  4. mommaof2

    It seems to me that Michele Bachmann's speech is coming very close to inciting hatred. Is it Hate Speech? Clinton is so right that it can lead those fringe people to do terrible things, things that they, the speaker, wouldn't do, but really they are(should be!) smarter than that... they know that people will react to those words.

    April 16, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  5. HouseDiva

    so basically...Clinton is saying be prepared for another government op attack...and be prepared to have more of your freedoms taken away and be prepared to be chipped like stray animals.

    thanks for the heads up Bill.

    April 16, 2010 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  6. James

    These tea bagger people are nuts. They are closet racists. The FBI has already raided one group and arrested the ringleaders that were militia planning to assasinate government officials. In short these people are terrorist and should be rounded up and locked away.

    April 16, 2010 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  7. Alpha Male

    Yup. Exactly right.

    April 16, 2010 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  8. Jim kowas

    And you have a lot of crazy liberals like the Oregon teacher who are
    trying to make the tea party look like gun toting crazies by doing dastardly deeds pretending to be one of us. Government should listen to those tea party points rather than ridiculing them. Scott Brown's victory has not been a clue to many of the sincerity of our feelings.

    April 16, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  9. Quinn Haber

    This article is so true. For example, I remember during the last RNC, ultra-liberal protestors were smashing cars and store windows and dropping sandbags from freeway overpasses. Their signs bore violent threats against the GOP, and many were wearing skull masks. But for some reason the Tea Partiers of today, who are not nearly as radical as that ultra-liberal bloc, get far more press coverage.

    April 16, 2010 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  10. Bunnie from California

    It's interesting that he doesn't mention the Hispanic rallies that also incite people. Also the African-American rallies of the past. I have heard some of that speach and it's hate speech too. Of course Bill Clinton would never say anything negative about those rallies. Since the people that pay taxes pay the saleries of the poloticians, it only seems fair that they have the right to complain about how their taxes are used and wasted.

    April 16, 2010 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  11. Jim kowas

    Liberals seem to have an irrational fear of the tea party. They appear to be the violent crazies in this issue. Not the tea party members.

    April 16, 2010 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  12. Joe Bute

    I agree with the president. Frankly I have never seen so much irresponsible behavior by the minority political party as I have seen since President Obama was elected. The GOP openly supports and encourages some of the most irresponsible behavior and attitudes of the furtherest right extreme of the political spectrum. From their outbursts on the floor of the Congress during a SOU to their gross mis-representations of the health care reform debate. If Democratic leadership had behaved this way during the Bush years I can only imagine what the MSM would have said or reported. Fox News openly supports and backs the Tea Party movement – heck they actually created it. Talking heads like Sarah Palin continue to use violence laced rhetoric on their websites and in their speeches. I'm disgusted with the GOP and it has turned me from being independent to a registered Democrat.

    April 16, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  13. Mike from Brooklyn

    People like Bachmann and Palin are especially bad and irresponsible - they are not true leaders, they are panderers - they "lead from behind". That said, people on both sides of this unfortunate great divide that exists in our country today should listen to Clinton. We should make an effort to RESPECTFULLY disagree and try to remember what we all have in common instead of relentlessly focusing on our differences. We are all Americans, and it's not up to some politician trying to score cheap points to say who is and who isn't a "real American".

    April 16, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  14. Zoe

    I agree. People need to take it down a notch. There is nothing wrong with freedom of speech and expression, but many have lost their sense of logic and common decency. Just yesterday I saw a few protestors with signs like 'I'm a Right Wing Extremist". Is being an extremist, left or right, something to be proud of or advertise? Anything taken to the extreme is bad and doesn't reflect positively on the person or their party. There are more sensical ways to voice your opinion and aim for change when you are upset than to fan the flames for personal attention.

    April 16, 2010 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  15. Carl Reinecke

    I just watched Wolf Blitzer host a panel of Gloria Borger, Paul Begala and some right-wing wack job respond to President Clinton talking about the parralels between today's anti government movement and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. The right-wing guy said President Clinton is again fanning the flames that caused Timothy McVie to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, basically saying that Clinton was responsible for the Waco disaster that McVie claims was the reason for his bombing. This country is in a great deal of trouble. The right are very poor losers. They absolutely can't stand the fact that there is a democrat in the White House and control both houses of the Congress and they believe the only way back to power is to oppose and discredit our government. It is sickening the way the right lies!

    April 16, 2010 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  16. Ellen Corcoran

    Bill-Thank you for speaking up. Extremism is dangerous.

    April 16, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  17. Us Dems for Obama

    Bill Clinton needs to keep his trap shut.....he isn't President any longer and no one wants to know what he thinks! But if there is any "bombing of a federal building" it will most likely be due to people like him placing the idea/thought into the head of some nut case.
    Doesn't matter anyway because Obama can handle any thing that comes his way.

    April 16, 2010 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  18. Beef King

    Thanks for the warning Bill. Maybe you should warn your commie friends that we won't swallow their ideology.
    Violence is wrong. Always.
    Now go tell that to your Chinese friends who worship the largest mass murderer in history.
    Walk the walk Bill.

    April 16, 2010 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  19. Jeff

    Bill, are you telling the scumbags , Rush and Glenn and their imitators to tone it down some?

    April 16, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  20. Independent One

    Former President I believe these teabaggers would love to do harm to the President....We must pray for Obama and family

    April 16, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  21. Mark

    Good stuff, Mr. President. I tend to find myself on the other side of you politically, but it's so nice to hear a Democrat criticize without demonizing. That's what separates you, Mr. President, from the Michelle Bachman/Sean Hannity AND the Maxine Waters/Rachel Maddow crowd. Let the politics continue; let the demonizing STOP!

    April 16, 2010 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  22. Mary (Texas)

    Here we go.....

    Let's take away the internet!!! I was wondering who Obama would sent out to make this speech!!!

    Get a grip!!! Government should be doing what they were "hired" to do and then no one would be upset. If I screw up on my job – I will be fired – so what's the difference???

    April 16, 2010 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  23. Gordon Shumway

    It would be really interesting if the american media would look at Obama as critically as they did Bush. But, instead, they see Obama with the eyes of Monica Lewinsky looking at Clinton.

    Then the press wonders why they get all the criticism over a few stains on their dress.

    April 16, 2010 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  24. Derrick

    This is very true.

    The GOP is turning their personal agenda into a HATEFUL agenda amonst the public.

    There is a difference between freedom of speech and hatred. Freedom of Speech comes with intelligent articulation of one's thoughts and ideas. Not of empty, mindless, rhetoric that breeds hatred and terror among our fellow citizens.

    April 16, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  25. Real American

    Hate spewing Republicans then, hate spewing Republicans now. No change.

    April 16, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
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