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. BB

    President Clinton is being to kind. The Tea Party/Republican definition of an outlaw government is when the opposing party is voted in by a majority of Americans in a fair and free election. Talk about un-American!!!!

    Sorry you guys didn't win, but do not villify and de-humanize the opposition – can you hear me Sarah? The majority rules in a democracy, or so I thought!

    April 16, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  2. Chris

    There are extremists on both the Right and the Left. The best way to deal with them is to minimize and isolate them. What the Right instead has done has invited the extremists to the table, given them a voice, and validated their wild ideas. Demagogues like Beck, Limpaugh, Hannity, and all the rest, have kept the Right Wingers constantly stirred up with a steady stream of incendiary rhetoric, constantly pushing the movement further and further Right. The Far Right has divided in the country in two: those who think exactly like they do are called "Real Americans", while those who disagree, even slightly, are denounced as "Socialists." You have people openly talking about a violent overthrow of the government to "take back America" and hoping for another Civil War. Anyone who thinks this will lead to anything constructive or good is insane and dangerous.

    April 16, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  3. Brian Dodge

    The right wing is engaged in a transparent attempt to stir up their base with inflammatory "babykiller" "reload""death panels" and "target" language while simultaneously attempting to stifle criticism of their obstructionist tactics with crocodile tears "denouncing threats" and accusations that statements from the Democrats are "unproductive rhetoric".
    When Senator Inhofe tells lies about the science of global warming (“In [Gore's] science fiction movie, every assertion has been rebutted,”), I'm not going to tone it down to "Senator Inhofe may be mistaken"

    April 16, 2010 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  4. Livin' the good life

    Is there enough money in a budget somewhere that we can start building insane asylums? Looks like we need them. There is a fine line between freedom of speach and threats to another individual. I've NEVER seen so much lack of common sense in America before. The people drinking the spiked tea ARE being watched by the federal goverment. They ARE keep track of their cell phone usage and recording their messages/texts/e-mails and twitter accounts. You can thank good ol' G.W. Bush for ALLOWING that to come into fruitation!...Beau Colby

    April 16, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  5. sytraxia

    Maybe they should have a "To Catch a Militia Man" show where they talk to gun nuts who spend all day looking at Google Earth for FEMA concentration camps and try to get them to come over to their compounds for "training".

    Nugent691488: What kind of cammo are you wearing?
    NoBamaYoMama: dazzle. How big is your gun?
    Nugent691488: it's huge... I'm strokin it right now. John Boehner is givin' me one!
    NoBamaYoMama: That tan is fabulous.

    April 16, 2010 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  6. Louise in NC

    Good for you Mr. Clinton! SOMEBODY BETTER START SPEAKING UP!! I am a 66 year old white woman living in the south, and the tea party crowd is just like the crowd down here in the south during the civil rights era. Mrs. Palin is just like a parasite wrapping hereself around any group where she can spew her hate. Swnd her back to Alaska and tell Michelle Backmann to go with her. We don't need their kind in the lower states!!

    April 16, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  7. Tom Massey

    I love it, the Democrats are so scared of the Tea Party, and they are going crazy and will say or do anything to change the inevitable. So whats the latest: they bring out Bubba to "save" this injustice and
    "Then you had the rise of extremist voices on talk radio."
    What about the extremists on Air America? Oh, thats right, their opinions where so highly thought of – they went out of business. Come on Bubba, is this the best you can do?
    The Democrats pole numbers are down, just like CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC ratings are in the toilet compared to Fox. A few parting words for you "progressives". 7 months, 7 days left of hearing you vomit every day. How disgusting.

    April 16, 2010 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  8. Desmond in Canada

    Looking in from outside, Clinton is dead on, and very kind to these so called concerned Repubs. I am pretty sure that a number of them would like extreme violence to ensue while feigning concern for your country. Several of these power seekers, not leaders, are very tragic individuals. With people like them in your politics, "Good luck, USA"!

    April 16, 2010 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  9. Can You Believe That Rush Limbaugh Blamed the Unions for the Massey Mine Disaster, Even Though No Union Members Work There? What a Putz

    He just lies and his right wing minions lap it up.

    April 16, 2010 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  10. Greg

    Clinton has a talent for spinning words and protecting hisself..... and he is brilliant at it... BUT... people are not falling for politician games anymore... lets take a look at his words...

    He scares you by telling you the tea party's are going to bomb a building like the Okcity attack.. He tells you "there are real consequences when what you say animates people" Specifically naming Michelle Bachmann...

    Then he turns around and says "they are not advocating violence or encouraging other people to do it" ??? And he's not gagging anybody and actually loves this political debate?? BUT... we've been down that road before and we don't want to go down it again???

    Masterful use of words from Mr. Clinton... I see now why he was elected two terms of president and why many many people (even after his behavior in the white house) like this man's. He can tell you what you want to hear and not sound like a bad guy and makes himself look like a gentle wise person.. LOL

    Problem is I think people are looking just a little bit closer these days and this kind of talk isn't going to do anything but let people see what kind of person you really are and what message or agenda your really trying to get across. You don't double talk like this and expect people nowadays to not see it..

    Sorry Mr. Clinton you cannot stereotype an entire movement as a bunch of bomb makers ready to terrorize the country. Not when then movement is the very essence of seeing politicians true colors. Thanks for just showing a little more of yourself !

    April 16, 2010 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  11. Michelle

    And the mastermind of "Obama must fail," old Rush, is trying to defend himself by blaming Clinton in advance for 'any violence that may happen." No, Mr. Mouth, it is on your head, and Beck's, and Palin and Bachmann. It will be Republicans who take up arms, reload, and kill someone. Democrats have not incited violence against the government, you have. And all because you just can't bear being an American with a black President. He is not socialist, he lowered taxes, and the health care bill is not armageddon. Grow up!

    April 16, 2010 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  12. Clay

    Simply hilarious!!!!

    April 16, 2010 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  13. m smith

    President Clinton is exactly right on this. I just hope people are listening before some wingnut goes bonkers. The faux news is keeping it stirred up and should be held accountable.

    April 16, 2010 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  14. glenda

    Clinton was the one who signed Phil Gramm's Bill of letting Wall Street do anything they wanted. Clinton and King George W., are the reasons this country is in the mess, it's in. Why would anybody care what they say?

    April 16, 2010 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  15. Robert Fritts

    I do not remember Mr. Clinton's concern when Kieth Obermann called for President Bush's execution, assination or death 243 times on a national network (ok it was MSNBC and 19 people were watching)? When multiple film festival gave their highest awards to a film depicting the assination of President Bush, Mr. Clinton was absolutley silent. He is Mr. Irrelevant. The party he loves has no room in their tent for the Clintons and non-far lefties. He just will not realize it. Remember his now silenced wife's quote "dissent is patriotic".

    April 16, 2010 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  16. Al

    Typical of Bill, Opening his mouth and saying something about
    nothing. I guess he just doesn't get it. Maybe he is still trying
    to find the definition of "is".!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 16, 2010 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  17. Jack Kinch(1uncle)

    One similarity now and OKC is that there was another demo prez in power,'Sick Willie' himself. That was caused by fed gov. Janet Reno(lesbian) friend of HIllary at Waco.
    The leader was executed . His follower should have been.
    Waco should never have happened . Was anyone punished? We're talking demos here.There were some angry people at the other tea party-angry at government and taxes.We are carryin' to much dead weight.

    April 16, 2010 07:41 pm at 7:41 pm |
  18. Ronnie

    The tea party is a right wing terrorist group who should be shut down.

    April 16, 2010 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  19. Chandler

    President Clinton is completely correct. Sadly, I think that people like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are INTENTIONALLY trying to rile people up. Just yesterday a GOP state congressman said that our forefathers killed people who disagreed with them. The GOP has such a distorted view of history. I fear they will all have blood on their hands before November.

    April 16, 2010 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  20. Meka

    Your exactly right, Mr. President!
    Right Wing Republican's, are the PROBLEM'S OF AMERICA . . .

    1- Dislike for Education
    2- Lack's "Human Compassion"
    3- DON'T PRACTICE-WHAT THEY PREACH = LIARS

    April 16, 2010 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  21. Wallace

    President Clinton is absolutely right with the tone these Tea Party people are exhibiting. It is very dangerous they do not respect the President and the White House. They look like fools to people outside of the United States.

    People are hurting in this country and guess who is making money off of the Tea Party people Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck and Michelle B. with fees, books and other trinkets and don't have sense enough to see it because they are so busy criticizing the President .

    In November they are going to be suprised every shut eye is not sleep we are just waiting for the right time don't count us out.

    April 16, 2010 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  22. Smith in Oregon

    Although sedition laws have been in the list of federal crimes for many years, they are seldom charged nor applied UNLESS the hate and urging of violence against the US Government triggers one or more in the audience to go out and commit Treasonous Activity's against the US Government.

    Republican -Tea Party-Rush Limbaugh-Fox entertainment commentators are treading a very thin line as they in my opinion routinely spew out Sedition rants which encourage what I feel are treasonous activity's against the US Government.

    Thus far this has largely gone on without criminal charges of sedition, however if one or more of their audience is directly triggered into committing acts of Treason against the US Government then those that triggered that to occur SHOULD BE CHARGED WITH FEDERAL CRIMES ALSO.

    April 16, 2010 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  23. Blaker in Mo

    Clinton tells it like it is.

    April 16, 2010 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  24. Bobby

    The continued attempts by the Democrats to try and put the spotlight on "extremism" and try to tie the public's frustration with our government is simply not going to work. It actually works opposite of the way Democrats are trying to push it. Democrats would be better positioned by ignoring it, and trying to focus their attention on the miserable economy and lack of jobs. Democrats are too used to preaching and brainwashing their own flock. This theory don't work on conservatives. There are always going to be a few nuts in the world, but the majority of the citizens are against our current failed path and will br vocal and exercise our right to change things in November.

    April 16, 2010 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
  25. Jim

    Leave it to Bill to add more fuel to the fire....curious how Bill, Obama and the other democrats said nothing when Bush was being called Hitler (bu Uncle Ted Kennedy and others) and when Hollywood made a movie about an assissination of Bush. When Democrats get critized they call their opponents racists, extremists and angry mobs. When Republicans are critized its open game; no rules, no mercy, no shame and no class.

    April 16, 2010 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
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