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. so rich even obama couldn't hurt me but you middle class folk should worry

    LMAO, so delusionsal! these people make me laugh, who is he talking about? these aren't anti american radicals were talking about, its interesting how these liberals view things isn't it.... that might be how you guys handle things but not this bunch.

    April 16, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  2. Duck Fallas

    Nothing says "I love my freedom" like blowing up a federal building.

    Domestic terrorists are easy to find, though. They all have Tea Bagger bumper stickers on their vehicles.

    April 16, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  3. Red by Choice

    This is nothing like 1995. Clinton at least stayed within the bounds of the constitution. While I didn't agree with Clinton during that time frame, I did respect him (well, except for that cigar thing). Obama is digging a financial hole so deep that we may never get out of it. His cabinet consists of tax cheats and left-wing radicals. He has reneged on all campaign promises surrounding war efforts and counter terrorism. Clinton had integrity. Obama has none. Clinton never bowed to any other world leaders nor did he run around the world belittling the US.
    And stating that the grass root movement afoot at present will tend toward violence is just a Democratic ploy to discredit those that believe that the constitution is absolute, not some ambiguous guideline. Many Democrats will be out of office in November.

    April 16, 2010 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  4. Darth Vadik, CA

    Brilliant, this is why I love Bubba, he turns Republican games right back at them, that is why they despise him so much. I miss Bubba, he should come out and speak a lot more often.

    April 16, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  5. The Whole World's Watching!

    Is he alluding to the Tea Party? Or to some McVeigh-like extremists?

    April 16, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  6. N

    Attempting to censor the movement or having political officials make fun of that movement...basically treating it any way but as a professional entity that deserves respect will make the radicalization of the movement all that more likely. Treat them with respect and as a vested stakeholder in America's future you make them feel included, part of a solution rather then a disenfranchised minority. I'd say the current situation is far closer to the civil rights movement in the 60s then the anti-government movement of the 90s. You have an entire segment of the country (and it is not small) who feel their rights and freedoms are being crushed. Having the President of the United States belittle them does more damage then all the Talk Radio you could possibly harbor. Talk radio is easily dismissed. But when the President singles you out and makes fun of you, that's a significant event; an event that will encourage other groups to bandwagon on that commentary. Eventually the Tea Party will become an oppressed and harassed group if that is allowed to happen. That can only lead to violence, history has shown no other course. The Government and the media that tries belittle and suppress that movement runs the risk of reliving the mistakes of the past. So in that light President Clinton is correct. We have been down the road of disenfranchised minorities (or majority perhaps in this case, hard to say). We know what happened before (riots, protests, civil disobedience) we really don't want to go down that road again...preferably ever.

    April 16, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  7. John

    Its clear that leftists are looking for any excuse to silence this minority. He is saying that Americans should fear this movement because it could lead to domestic terrorism??? Absurd. Instead of trying to silence or discredit the movement, politicians should be listening and taking note. People are angry for a reason.

    April 16, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Well done mr. president well done.

    April 16, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  9. The Whole World's Watching!

    I can't believe the hypocrisy of the left. Rarely do people on the right ever demonstrate – the Tea Party is an exceptional circumstance for exceptional reasons. And they have not done anything violent or threatening. In fact most of them are older, middle Americans.

    The left have had many more demonstrations over the years, with much more inflammatory and derogatory speeches against the right. Even Cindy Sheehan was more inflammatory than the typical Tea Party activists. And often the left has been much more violent. Look at the crimes of Peta, anti-globalization anarchists, and anti-government left wing ideologues like the Weather Underground.

    Why didn't the mainstream Left ever fret about any of these? Why are they so worried about the middle aged Tea Partiers? Hypocrits!

    April 16, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  10. Rahm

    So, the Internet is the real threat?

    If they have credible evidence, get a warrant and go search out the crime, otherwiseleave the Internet alone. I fear the politicans more than the radicals.

    April 16, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  11. Destinee

    Obama's a great president, the 290 people who have also commented on this broadcast are only talking about what Obama hasn't done well, What about what he has done? People can now afford health care right? So in time what needs to be done will be done. Now, we are making progress by agreeing to get rid of some of our nuclear supplies but with every plan there is always a set back. By minimizing our nuclear supplies we are giving terrorists less chances to kill millions of people so instead of criticizing President Obama give some ideas. I mean, I'm 14 and I don't want to die of a nuclear explosion, a war or by cancer. We're already fighting, why make it worse. I am pretty sure other teenagers feel the same way but if none of them want to speak I'll take a stand!

    April 16, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  12. Brink

    But Mr. President, that would mean that people would have to be responsible for their words and actions and have some type of functioning moral compass. That is so old school. It is so much more fun just to scream " I have right under the first amendment to say whatever I want". It is even more fun when you can feed your ego and pocketbook by being a simplistic demagogue.

    April 16, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. Lynn

    Clinton's comments ring so true. I remember in the 60's with the Viet Nam anti-war protests, and all the rest of the radicals since, seems every few years new ones sprout, protesting anything and everything. They don't listen to reason, just become fanatical followers to the leaders they worship.

    April 16, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  14. Jeff

    Clinton's words should have been coming out of the mouths of Republican congressmen months ago. To the extent that they condone and even encourage the hate-filled rhetoric of those one the right, they are complicit in any violence that results.

    April 16, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Screw Clinton. I'm tired of the government's intrusion in my life. Tea party people are for the most part average American people paying taxes (and lots of taxes I might add and should never be compared to an indivdual who committed murder. But I care less about Clinton. He was a joke of a governor in Arkansas and a joke as president.

    April 16, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  16. Four and The Door

    Bill Clinton was a much better president than Barack Obama. The road we are going down right now with Obama, Pelosi and Reid we have never been down before. They have abused majority status by blatantly thumbing their noses up at the Republicans ( who by the way represent over 150 million Americans ) and pushing big budget spending bills favoring only Democratic special interests in spite of record federal government debt. We will end their terms with our votes.

    April 16, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  17. BJs65

    Clinton is right.

    I recall that just after Oklahoma City, many people who were 'on the fence' about the militia groups were totally turned off by the sort of violence they were promoting.

    We're on the path to something like this happening again. Don't think it won't – it WILL happen again. Those who promote this kind of anti-government rhetoric will have blood on their hands. Yes, this means you Rush, Glenn, and Sarah and others.

    April 16, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  18. Zaggs

    When will the liberals speak out against the acts of violence committed by their cult followers? James Von Brunn, Amy Bishop, Andrew Stack, The Basij SEIU thugs who beat Kenneth Gladney and the New Orleans soldiers of BOama who beat Allee Bautsch! When will the liberal terrorists be called out for who they really are?

    April 16, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  19. Rad

    Watch out! It's the BOOGEY MAN!!! BOOOOGEEYYYY MANNNNN!!!!

    Democrats do not use fear tactics.

    April 16, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  20. Ben Krause

    Maybe he will give some advice on being moral in office also, including not lying under oath. How can anyone trust what this man of low morals says!

    April 16, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  21. Bob

    He. Is. Still. Money.

    April 16, 2010 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  22. Marie MD

    We should thank faux news and hannity, beck, the wasilla shrill, malkin and the biggest piece of them all limberger.
    Anything happens to anyone in this country they should be immediately jailed for treason and inciting violence which is all they know.

    April 16, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  23. Chris

    Yes Bill, please contribute with even more fear-mongering. So what, they're misinformed. The smarter part of the U.S. population understands this. Don't relate an act of expression (A fundamental right, I believe, not too sure) with potential domestic terrorism. We have enough "false alarms" for the federal government to take away our rights for the next 100 years. Don't encourage the revocation of the 1st Amendment.

    April 16, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  24. Capt. Snarky

    Notice how the consevative Tea Party is being vilified as violent by the left, yet where was this vilification when the left was demonstrating against the Bush administration's policies? Where was the concern with violence and domestic terrorism then? HuH, Progressives? It's all fine when you are the ones doing the demonstrating, isn't it?

    April 16, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  25. Vallary

    This is so true, now times are scary. People are so upset. about health care, gas, jobs, housing. I agree 100% with what Bill Clinton is saying I do

    April 16, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
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