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. L Pope

    Government spending is totally out of control and the American people are speaking up. The Dems are in trouble and Clinton and Obama are trying to difuse the populist movement with any aangle they can!

    April 16, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  2. Johnny DC

    And this threat didn't exist back when the GOP had control of the country?

    I like the sentiment of the former president, but like most things Liberal, it comes at an incredibly hypocritical time.

    April 16, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  3. Allen, Texas

    Right On, Mr. President!!!!! Now if we can communicate this message to the Right – Wing Lunatics impersonating as political leaders.

    April 16, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  4. Mitch Eisenman

    The former Prez got it right. People like Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are fueling racism under the guise of smaller governments. They are both the ugliest of Americans.

    April 16, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  5. Indiana Voter

    "They are not gangsters," Clinton told the newspaper. "They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do."

    That is funny that he said this considering Democrats did the opposite of what the majority of Americans wanted and forced through the "health care" bill anyway using bribery and back door dealing to get it through. They are elected to represesnt the people and they most definitely are not representing the people.

    April 16, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  6. JRDevo

    Yeah – Slick Willy wouldn't want any rebels like we had in 1776 messing up his fat plantation business with Obama and Hillary, would he?

    The original Tea Party-ers criminally trespassed, destroyed private property, and blamed it all on the Indians !

    The Clintons are in every sense of the word – career, elitist-class politicians – the EXACT problem with our country.

    April 16, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  7. Patsy, Texas

    President Clinton is right on. These people do not stop to think about
    the working minds of some who might take their rhetoric seriously, and
    act on it. Again, the very list of "heroes" the tea people put out, are
    some of those who give the hate-filled speeches. They use words
    like "target", "aim at", not to mention the low life "MAP". So, sadly,
    they will not listen to reason, but I thank President Clinton for
    trying to bring sense to the "debates". He should not have been the
    first to say this, and he certainly should not be the last.
    It's really not funny, and it is very dangerous.

    April 16, 2010 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  8. th

    Bachmann and Palin are two of the main people insighting hatred from the tea party.

    April 16, 2010 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  9. TOTUS 4 PRESIDENT

    Outrageous, dcik-headed, knowingly wrong, intentionally divisive, and certainly not presidential, but when did Bubba ever worry about being presidential???.

    April 16, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  10. Carolee Crowley

    AMEN!! No one else could have said it better.

    April 16, 2010 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  11. vlj in mn

    If I lived in Michele Bachmann's district, I would feel cheated in my representation. She's far too busy misstating facts at tea party events to possibly be getting anything meaningful done in DC. Repeal Health Care Reform? As GWB used to say with anything controversial "It's over. Let's move on." (Which is what I think the country will do, come November. It will be old news by then.

    Bill Clinton is a true statesman. His words ought to be taken seriously.

    April 16, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  12. Carys

    I think it's ironic that this type of warning about the current volatile situation in the U.S. always manages to leave out another time in history where violent acts were often instigated by liberal-leaning activist groups like Weather Underground. Inciting violence is no less consequential just because you side with them.

    April 16, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  13. Molly Reiss

    Thank you President Clinton for your comments. Unfortunately many of these people won't listen or read anything that isn't Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin or Fox News so they never hear another point-of-view. It is disheartening.

    April 16, 2010 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  14. Leslie

    I, too am worried about the militant types! They all have guns and as we know they would love to use them! They are dangerous! Just because the majority of Americans don't agree with them they are mad and are willing to act out violently. I am afraid if we don't do something about this type of behavior something tragic is going to happen!

    April 16, 2010 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  15. Coklan

    Thank you Mr. President. Monday will be the anniversary of that horrible day, may we use it to honor those Americans who were serving other Americans before their lives were taken by that un-American coward.

    April 16, 2010 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  16. mother in Pa

    I too see parallels but when our elected officials do not listen to the people and we have high ranking administrators saying "they don't care what we think. It is best for us" such as Pelosi and Obama said, what do you expect. This administration is still continuing to push through a very unpopular agenda. Just wait when Obama pushs for amnesty for all illegals. Then you have Eric Holder attacking the very people who are fighting for this country. Violence would not surprise me. There is no civility left in politics at any level nor among the citizens of this country. I am a patriot, my son and brother fought for this country. These individuals I respect, not an administration who has no idea what they face. I too see red listening to the silk tongue of our "Community Organizer" and seeing how easy it is to convince people to follow.

    April 16, 2010 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  17. Dave

    So American Citizens peacefully protesting the Adminstration's direction are now terrorists in the mind's eye of the "centrists" like Clinton? Wonderful.

    April 16, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. Publius Novus

    Thank you Mr. President. It is good to hear the voice of reason above the din.

    April 16, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  19. shucks

    He is absolutely correct except that he is sugar coating the percentage of the tea party movements members that are spewing their hate, racism, and manufactured rhetoric. The extreme right is hoping for a civil war, so as they say, they can take back their country. Only problem is that it isn't just theirs it is all of ours, and the Tea Party members are much less in numbers than you are led to believe by the media. Many of the protests in some of the bigger cities across America yesterday had only a couple hundred people protesters. You would have thought by the coverage that there were millions in each city. That was not the case. Estimates put it at about 2 million nationwide in all cities that had rallies. That is a very slim minority in this country.

    April 16, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  20. Dennis

    Your Bill is right. We shouldn't become unhinged by a purely partisan Democrat Slim Majority cramming Health Care Welfare down the throats of 270 million people to insure 32 million freeloaders, 3.5% tax on our investments, trillions more added to the National Debt for our kids to pay, while they create 32 million new Committed Voters for Democrats each election to make sure their freebe is not resended, destroy our independent health insurance providers, drive family doctors into more profitable lines of work, make our employers think about doing away with company provided plans in lieu of the Nationalized Version, high copays, high out of pocket expenses, limited deductions, and the loss of more of our freedom. We just need to stick to our cigars and pizza.

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  21. Pam

    He is right, too bad the wingnuts won't listen too him, as his name isn't Rush, Hanity, Coulter or Palin. Innocent lives will be lost to the hatered of the extreemests and those 4 feed that hate.

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  22. Ken

    I have been thinking the same thing, they are inciting violence and we called that terrorism when it was initiated by a group of individuals that believe in another religion.

    looks step back and take a look at reality and realize in america we are not samolia, we are not korea, we are not china and we are definatly not iraq, iran or afgan. we are americans we are a gathering of all the countries, races, religions – and we must do it together.

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  23. JES

    Mr Clinton please go back to where ever you were and let this couyntry have a voice. No one in Washington will listen to the majority of voters and we will see what happens this November.

    It's time our government started to pay attention to us and not just think about them.

    We are tired of sending people to Washington that have their own agendas and that includes Obama.

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  24. Don C

    I look back at how these so called Liberals acted towards anyone with a differant view than they're own. They were very hateful (and still are). Why didn't Old Bill say anything then???

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  25. Sooner1500

    You can't fuel the unhinged. They are loose cannons regardless. If it isn't the Tea Party, then it's road rage. Witness Fort Hood. And speaking of that, how about that coverup?

    April 16, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
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