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. ZRab001

    That is a very intelliginet insight. Really.

    While freedom of speech is essential to democracy, it also assumes that this right is being used in a responsible fashion. The heat up the uneducated, dissatisfied masses is dangerous as should not be used by opportunists such as Sarah Palin and her friends.

    April 16, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  2. j.q. citizen

    It is interesting that Hillary's husband is using the OK City bombing to warn of "domestic terrorism."
    How many bombs were found at the Federal bldg? 3 or 4 according to the OK City bomb squad...while the media and gov't would have everyone believe that two rednecks drove a rental truck up to the front door & detonated it. There were bombs INSIDE the bldg. A secure federal bldg! How do two rednecks sneak three large bombs into a secure facility? They don't! Someone on the inside had a part in it. By that I mean the government of the United States of America!

    April 16, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  3. Oompa Loompa

    Way to go Bill! Providing a lot more common sense and respect than Obama's laughing the Tea Party off in his public appearances. I'm begining to think Obama and the democrats want something bad to happen.

    April 16, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  4. seebofubar

    Stop equating these protests to domestic terrorists and trivializing the concerns of 56% of Americans. No matter how left wing fanatics try to spin the right shifting attitude of this country it won't change the fact that most Americans are fed up with this adminidtration's insane policies and arrogant attitude. Look at the demographics of the Tea Party, more educated and more sucessfull than the average American. What does that tell you? Go find another intern to mess with and leave running this country to intelligent people.

    April 16, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  5. Kelley

    I agree with former president Clinton. I, too, enjoy debating politics; however, not only is the rhetoric becoming more violent and intolerant in many places, but we now have actual elected officials like Bachmann who are joining in to try to raise the level of hatred and anger. She was so concerned during the elections about finding all of those alleged "un-Americans" in Congress, and it seems to be that she is the most un-American of all. Encouraging healthy debate and skepticism is one thing; encouraging violence toward a lawfully elected government is sedition.

    April 16, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  6. sensible Cape Coral FL

    Someone had better get a handle on this movement before it gets too big for any one to handle. All it takes are a few nut cases to send us all to Kingdom Come.

    April 16, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  7. Marc from San Diego

    Very true, and scary. It is impossible to be prepared for this many people and this level of ignorance. It is a recipe for disaster and it's only a matter of time.

    April 16, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  8. Tommy

    Some good points Mr Clinton has raised. I don't believe the vast majority of Tea Baggers would translate their rage into violence, but their rage encourages and eggs on the minority of them who would do violence in the name of their cause. This is the opposite of one person yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, inciting the rest to pandemonium. This is the larger group who would never do violence stoking the violence of a few "unhinged" who will do violence (mob mentality).

    April 16, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  9. mike

    I am sick and tired of these scum bags that when the majority in this
    country want to go in another direction but there own we are called
    unpatriotic and we should listen to them I can understand free speech
    but no one really cares when they make a lot of noise just to be heard
    what is going to happen is someone is going to get hurt and when
    that does everybody is going to point fingers at one another except
    for themselves because the media like rush,beck,palin,and the list
    goes on they will be the first to hide

    April 16, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  10. JC

    He is so right. The anti-governmental rhetoric that is being bantered about is getting out of hand with a small but vocal group. It is being fueled by talk show hosts that think its funny and those that are making lots of money by keeping it going and fueling the fire. So who is going to be responsible when another OK City bomber surfaces.

    April 16, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |

    HEY BILL C, You helped create the divide in this country with your republican style pro corporate policies such as NAFTA.. Now we have a divided nation, and you open your trap again.. I'm an ashamed democrat when I think HOW YOU HELPED the BUSH CRIME family

    April 16, 2010 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  12. joe reiss

    Regarding Bill Clinton's comment on voter feelings about Obama. Its got nothing to do with him being black or muslin. Its got everything to do with his liberal policies of tax, tax, tax and spend. He is running up a deficients that is going to kill this country and we're taxed enough already!!

    April 16, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  13. ken

    Here we go. Can't take the heat and freedom of speech and you need to take another freedom away. But at the sametime porn and muder is rampet but thta is ok..Wow double standards. I forgot the libs protect murders and stripper, hom's and and othe minority groups (not coler just the confused grenders) out ther... Russia is looking better everyday Osama's are in office... They will ban AM radio next and then block net sites that they deem unfit for us adults. Thanks to all in congress that sits and lets this republic fall...

    April 16, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  14. Terry - Indiana

    Well, all former President Clinton needs to do is look to Wall Street and Corporate America for the answer to his concern. General Electric made $10.8 Billion Dollars last year, but amazing enough, none of that profit was in the United States (Where GE Is Headquartered) so General Electric pays no taxes in the United States. On Wall Street, we find that Goldman Sachs is now indicted by the SEC for securities fraud related to the scam associated with failed home loans. This is the same Goldman Sachs that received part of the $350 Billion TARP Fund Bailout that was sent to Wall Street in October 2008 by then President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson (who by the way asked for immunity from prosecution for future Wall Street and Goldman Sachs charges) and none of the initial $350 Billion has ever been accounted for in any government report. So, with all of this and hundreds of other stories just like them pouring over State and Federal Governments, why would the average person on the street, broke, homeless, and out of work be upset?

    April 16, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  15. irwin

    Our deomcracy is broken! We don't pick the candidates. We're manipulated by politicians, corporations, etc. – and pitted one against the other. We spend all this money on wars, bailouts, foreign aid – and we lose our jobs and homes. What do you expect! A love affair with the pols!!

    April 16, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  16. Partisan hypocrite

    Odd that most of the violence has been directed at the anti-government protesters.

    April 16, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  17. Bob

    Just because the American people are disgusted with higher taxes, bigger government, left wing liberal give away policies and pacifist foreign policy attitudes, this idiot thinks the Tea Party activist is in someway trying to bring the country down. The truth is the American people are sick and tired of the these idiot liberals who have brought forth the biggest entitlement the citizens of the United States will ever see and will drain the treasury of everything for decades to come. He can be proud that he and his but ugly wife had a hand in this entire situation.

    April 16, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  18. Mike

    As I recall, 'talk radio' wasn't a factor, it was the handling of Ruby Ridge and Waco that set McVeigh off. That is why he timed his attack to coincide with the second anniversary of the deaths at Waco.

    April 16, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  19. Dave

    Another factor is the extreme amounts of misinformation these people have. Irresponsible pundits on the radio and a certain right-wing propaganda network that poses as "news" have spread all kinds of complete lies and speculation. There are a lot of people out there who aren't actually mad at anything that's actually happened... they're angry at things that they think *might* happen, in their fantasies. The "Obama as Hitler" signs are an example. Obama hasn't done anything even remotely Hitlerian, and yet these people have convinced themselves that he has... because they have little knowledge of what Obama's actually doing, or what Hitler actually did. Such ignorance - especially since so much of it is willful - is dangerous to all involved.

    April 16, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  20. ken

    Here we go. Can't take the heat and freedom of speech and you need to take another freedom away. But at the sametime porn and muder is rampet but thta is ok..Wow double standards. I forgot the libs protect murders and strippers, gays and other minority groups (not color just the confused grenders) out there... Russia is looking better everyday while Osama's are in office... They will ban AM radio next and then block net sites that they deem unfit for us adults. Thanks to all in congress that sits and lets this republic fall...

    April 16, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  21. S Callahan

    People have always had differing of opinions of those in Governement and what those in government are doing....that is not new....it's the 'fear' mentality of those in government that tries to impose their fear on the public that has change. People need to relax some....'aint nothing going to happen that God himself would not allow. The only true disturbing thing to me is the ideology that is being given attention that most Americans are not supportive of Israel...in my neck of the neighborhood we are advocates of the Nation of Israel and that will not change! The President represents the will of the people and this is one avenue he needs to clearly walk on.

    April 16, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  22. Becky Kennedy

    Thank you Bill Clinton! Seriously. The Tea Party movement is ridiculous. People need to stop and think what our taxes pay for. We have the best Military in the World who keep us safe and free every day. We have a fantastic and safe interstate highway system. We pay for our Federal Government – if you don't like them then don't vote. How about the CIA and the FBI and Homeland Security. What do you suppose would happen to us all of they didn't filter out the Intelligence from adversaries all over the world who want to do nothing more than kill all of us every minute of every day. They envy us – why do you suppose that is? Do they have a Government like ours? Pay taxes like we do? Do you suppose they would be happy to pay taxes if they did have a country like ours. I think they would. What would happen to our Justice System if nobody paid the judges – w
    hat do suppose would happen? Think about all we have and how fortunate we all are to live here instead of being so negative about everything.

    All you Tea Party fanatics need to stop and think about what you're wishing for – are you sure it's really what you want or are you just mad and cynical and want everyone to know about it. I suggest that you run for office and make it all better.

    April 16, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  23. Geoff

    The voice of reason, hopefully everyone will listen before someone is serously injured or killed!

    April 16, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  24. Susan from Birmingham, Al.

    Bill Clinton does not seem to be living on the same planet as everyone
    else does. The tea party is not the same thing as Timothy McVeigh
    mentality. They are just middle-class regular people who work and
    pay taxes, and want their voices heard. He seems to be stuck in the

    April 16, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  25. demmie

    what an irresponsible man. there is absolutely no hint that there are foces against the gov't. TEA party is peaceful, GOP is peaceful.... only organized group that I can think of that has ever targeted the gov't has been the Weather Underground – whose members were pardoned by Bill Clinton himself....... and whoe leader helped launch the career of the current president!! Seems all too convenient and if anything DOES happem, the tin hat crowd will have tons of ammo

    April 16, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
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