April 16th, 2010
06:00 PM ET
5 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. Maya

    I agree with Bill Clinton. The current political climate doesn't make us proud as Americans. We can exercise our democratic rights through discussion not confrontation.

    April 16, 2010 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  2. Bill

    Seems to me like quite a stretch in logic. Oh, well.

    April 16, 2010 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  3. Dr. Virginia Lubell

    Sad really. I went to a Tea Party Rally yesterday as a representative of The Coffee Party movement (www.coffeepartyusa.com)

    It was clear that if I didn't hold the same viewpoint people at the Rally therefore I was seen of as 'not caring' , 'supportive of the government' and 'on the other side.'

    People at the Rally were always talking about The Constitution and what the founding fathers meant. Curiously the whole emphasis then was on 'I The Person' rather than 'We The People'.

    And very few people at the Rally have any understanding of how powerful Transnationals have been permitted to become since The Great Restructuring in the mid-1980s during Reagan in the US, Thatcher in the UK and where I lived ... Roger Douglas.

    Confusion rules and that's very sad.

    April 16, 2010 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  4. tag

    wake up bill......the explosion is regarding big government...not a building. the tea party rolls on!

    April 16, 2010 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  5. RALPH J FESTA

    to whom itmay concern, ii'm a concerned senior citizen with no ties to any organation,but in all my years i never seen a country so divided! its not a black or white problem, its this president is very radical and does not listen to what people want, we want to make our own choices ,he beleives in trickle up poverty!! i don't think the congress & senate listen to the people,they have to understand they work for us and not special interest groups!!...helping people w/o health insurance sounds good,but don't take away from people who worked all there lives to get benefits .why if this health reform is so good that 59% of americans oppose it ? probably this e-mail will go to deaf ears!! thank anyway.....rjfesta

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

    Obama was elected and even though we don't really know he is a citizen he is the president however, the changes he has made and attempted to make seem fairly socialistic. That causes anger and fear. The people are not happy, it would be better if they would try to impeach him and any of the congress or senate members that aren't working towards a better democracy. Obama is loosing the trust that was put into his retoric and seeing he doesn't respect this country or his office. The silent majority is finally tired of being silent and now because they are vocal they are labeled as terrorists. If the politicians would do thier job and represent the people it would make for alot less anger and fear. People do not want to loose the freedom that was paid for with blood and service.

    April 16, 2010 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  7. Dave in Houston

    Let me guess, we all get to hear about the tea partiers and republicans.
    You people sicken me.
    to compare honest law abiding proud citizens of this country to timothy mcveigh is unbelivable. Mr clinton why wernt you saying this about all the nasty awfull things said about bush. What has been said about obama is nothing compared to what was said about bush.
    This country was mad at bush and that is why obama won the election. obama has acomplished the anger it took bush 6 to 8 year
    to produce in 18 months. because we can see whats coming down the road.

    April 16, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  8. k pratt

    Seems as if our government is now looking to make us subjects rather than voters. Bill Clinton is one liberal that really needs a change of diaper! I am truly waiting for November 2010 when congress will get a good and well deserved house cleaning.

    April 16, 2010 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  9. Biased

    I am sickened that President Clinton would enter the fray and talk about the Tea Party movement in comparisons to the Oklahoma City bombings. It is unfortunate that the media and the liberals show such a disdain for ordinary Americans who are worried about the growing debt and burden being left to their children and grandchildren and that there seems to be no limits to the spending while the money isn't there. It appears that there are no boundaries or levels so low that democratic supporters won't stoop to to be so dismissive of their fellow American citizens. When it comes down to comments like this or a website boasting of infiltration to deliberately make them appear stupid or racist then where and when does the nonsense stop? Where is the coverage of a beating a woman got coming out of a republican meeting where her leg was smashed in 5 places? Is violence and hatred accepted as long as it is against republicans, conservatives and independents who don't agree with the Obama policies? Is the media ever going to get back to doing its job of holding everyone accountable for their actions or is that a thing of the past?

    April 16, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  10. Independent Supports President Obama

    Former President Clinton is correct. Some of these politicans are baiting domestic terrorism. Calling elected officals gangsters is not acceptable and has nothing to do with freedom of speech. I have not seen this much racism since the 60's. Since we elected our first African American President the racists have reared their ugly heads. If they are so upset with our country let them form their own country. What these racists are doing borders on treason. Those of us that are patriotic love our country and do not hate it as this group of ignorant racists do. This is not patriotic because they are trying to overthrow our government.

    April 16, 2010 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  11. Jim

    Obviously, President Clinton was much smarter than President Obama. When his administration saw the push back from the American people on healthcare they backed off and moved to the center. This President went full steam ahead and moved further to the left. Look at California they are bankrupt, yet Pelosi and Waxman are writing legislation for the entire country. President Obama is a left-wing liberal who lied to the American people about who he was and now the silent majority is having buyers remorse and speaking out. I would say the current President as his policies are much more dangerous than the so called loons.

    April 16, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  12. Camille Donna

    What Clinton fails to talk about is the fact that the Waco and Ruby Ridge fiascoes during Clinton's administration lead to Timothy McVeigh. He is not a right-winger.

    April 16, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  13. bts

    How true!!! There is a dangerous climate in the U.S. that groups like the Tea-Party are perpetuating. My question is "What do they truly hope to accomplish?" If people really thought about it instead of reacting with a knee jerk response, I think they wouldn't like the Tea-Party 's USA.

    April 16, 2010 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  14. FL

    interesting that he claims "most" tea party members are well behaved. When weren't they? Seems to me they are concerned with the momentum of the organizations critical of this administration and they are trying to silence them with threat of prosecution for speaking out. If this administration actually looked at the situation they would understand that their ignorance caused these tensions. This administration can not take the criticism and growing momentum so they are trying to silence the opposition by threatening prosecution of things that never happened. Stop trying to make the opposition of this administration look like monsters and listen to what they are saying. It is not oboma's or the democrats nation it is the peoples nation. The power grab this administration has undertaken is against everything a true American believes.

    April 16, 2010 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  15. Progressive Texan

    I am so tired of listening to people complain about their taxes and what the government isn't doing for them. I, for one, am more than happy to support our troops (and everything else our government provides) with my tax dollars, not just with my mouth and my bumper sticker. Not only did Michele Bachmann refer to the "gangster government", but followed up that ridiculous accusation by saying that the government has taken over 51 percent of the economy since the Obama administration came to power. That is such an unbelievable lie! But then, what would you expect from a demagogue like her?
    Actually, we would all be better off if it were true. I am very proud of this country and of what our public institutions can do on shoestring budgets. Take an often criticized agency like the post office, for example. My wife recently went to work in Japan and forgot to take dental retainer. I took it to FedEx and they were going to ship it to arrive in three days for just under $80. The only problem was that they didn't have the capacity to ship it to her location. So I took it to a post office and guess what? The good old USPS was able to get it there in five days for about $6 (yes, six) dollars. Yes, Michele, the taxpayers would save a bundle if the government really did control 51 percent of the economy. Give me big government over big business any day!

    April 16, 2010 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  16. Doug

    This is so sad, the President who lied to his own government bringing up "civil War" and blaming the right to assemble as being anti-government. The even sadder thing is that we pay for him everyday for the rest of his life as a freeloader and expensive hobby for the citizenry. This ungrateful politician who is ridiculous.

    April 16, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  17. Camille Donna

    The Turner diaries that McVeigh had were written by a Neo-Nazi.

    The Nazi's were left wingers. The name stood for the Nathional SOCIALIST party.

    Hitler was anti-religion and wanted to return to the paganism of the Norse Gods.

    April 16, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  18. dan

    If there is any violence. You can thank the Republican Party, Sara Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and the Tea Party People. All they have done is spew hate speeches, angry speeches, and unAmerican speeches. Its a wonder how anybody would make them a majortiy. They are all crazy, and they haven't done anything to earn the majority or a Republican President. They haven't governed in over a year. All they have done is promote violence, Tell people to hate their president. Thats the worst form of conservatory, I ever experienced. They are all Right Wingers.

    April 16, 2010 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  19. dan

    If there is any violence. You can thank the Republican Party, Sara Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and the Tea Party People. All they have done is spew hate speeches, angry speeches, and unAmerican speeches. Its a wonder how anybody would make them a majortiy. They are all crazy, and they haven't done anything to earn the majority or a Republican President. They haven't governed in over a year. All they have done is promote violence, Tell people to hate their president. Thats the worst form of conservatory, I ever experienced. They are all Right Wingers.
    Even Pat Buchanon said the Republican Party hasn't done anything to earn the majority

    April 16, 2010 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  20. ANDROLOMA, Commerce City, Colorado

    It's because of criminals such as Mr. Clinton, Mr. Bush I and II, Mr. Obama, Mr. Reagan, Mr. Ford and Nixon and all the other filth which has plundered the working people of this country mercilessly that the people are anti-government. Yes, we know our enemies. We remember Waco and Ruby Ridge. If our forefathers were patriots for opposing the tyranny of Britain, then aren't we just as patriotic for opposing domestic tyranny?

    See you on the streets, Bill. Beware the crosshairs. If we're unhinged, you unhinged us. Live with the mess you helped make.

    April 16, 2010 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  21. Michael, Phoenix AZ

    Right On, Mr. President. Too much radical talk these days, most likely fueled by those who resent the greed on Wall Street as manifested by the greed from Washington DC the past 2 1/2 administrations.

    April 16, 2010 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  22. Ron

    Interesting that Hillary Clinton (in 2003) screeched very loudly that she is "sick and tired of citizens who disagree with the current administration being called un-patriotic" and believes it is the right of every citizen to question the direction of government. Now her husband calls those who criticize the direction of our current government "anti-government radicals"? Something doesn't sound right and should turn the stomach of EVERY citizen whether you agree or disagree with the current administration. Take away free speech, or call those who disagree radicals, hurts all citizens of this great country. George Bush NEVER called those who disagreed "radicals" but clearly, and often, stated it was their constitutional right and their opinion was welcomed. This administration does not believe that is the case and would limit your free speech if there was only a way he could make it happen.

    April 16, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  23. Tim

    I must say that I agree with Pres. Clinton. Republican politicians are so eager to re-gain power that they are encouraging rabid and extreme rhetoric. It's the epitome of irresponsibility to foment hatred for ones political adversaries, but that's exactly what they're doing.

    Many of the mob are simply misinformed and misdirected – channeling anger over job losses and the economy into unhinged characterizations of the President and his party as Socialists or Nazis out to destroy the country. Such hyperbole would be laughable if the consequences don't threaten to be so dreadful.

    When some unhinged person or group eventually acts on these messages, Republican leaders will no doubt disavow all responsibility and cry alligator tears.

    The truth is, however, out there. Their lust to regain power is nearly palpable and they will not risk alienating a single enraged, gun toting, reality challenged voter.

    April 16, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  24. Duncan

    I think the American political discourse and civility came to an abrupt end with the election of the first African- American president. No matter how you put it, these tea partyers cannot accept the eminent demise of their political and economic dominance.

    April 16, 2010 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  25. Gerry NH

    It seems as though our government doew not care about what the American people want. They will vote for what they want could care less about what we think. In New Hampshire I have contacted my representative and senator and there reply to me has never address my question. The government in Concord never lets the people vote on important legislation they make all of the decisions. This is why I am voting out every incumbent out of office over the next 2 major elections.

    April 16, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
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