April 16th, 2010
06:00 PM ET
4 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. John -- White Plains, NY

    He's absolutely right!!!! Its unfortunate, but alot of this extremism is based on many many mistakes from the Bush term along with a blatant racist attitude towards Obama. Let's call it what it is.. Idiots like Palin and Glenn Beck and the addict Limbaugh don't help but only stoke the fire...

    April 16, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  2. don schneider

    recently cnn (john king) discussed right wing and left wing extremists as if there were a balance between the two. where is the extreme left wing in american politics? i don't see any demonstrations in favor of a single payer healthcare bill.i don't see a socialist party movement much less a communist party . presenting the left and right as if they were equally active and influential in american politics is inaccurate reporting.it would have been valid in the the 30's and 40's. then you had a left wing press(the daily compass PM even the n.y. post under thackery but now? that is just not where the u.s. is politically.reference the right wing cable and talk shows ( fox, limbaugh etc.) in terms of viewers and listeners and its understandable that obama is viewed as a radical .as a left winger i wish he were.

    April 16, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  3. Hugo

    So he must be speaking about the SEIU Union thugs that beat up the guy in New Orleans? I would assume Slick Willie has mellowed since his earlier days of Vietnam era anti-government rhetoric.... Hey, what Party was that again involved with the Days of Rage??

    April 16, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  4. Put a sock in it Bill

    What Bill sees as terrorism others see as free speech. The mood in the country is ugly - and that is due to the Socialist takeover of Washington by Obama, Reid, and Pelosi. People are angry. But they are not stupid.

    Bill is dealing in fear mongering in a desperate act to try to stem the growing criticism of Obama and the Dems. It will not dissuade patriotic voters from standing up and throwing whatever rhetoric they want against the current folks in DC. That is how this nation was founded Mr Bill -- so put a sock in it until November. After the mid terms it will quiet down when the GOP retakes control of both Houses ..... and then it will be the dems turn to become angry and use the rhetoric.

    Bill - you must think your constituents are all stupid to resort to this sort of fear mongering - Shame on you

    April 16, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  5. Fred

    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 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  6. Mike

    No one in the meida, liberal or conservative, has ever taken any responsiblity for any voilence that resulted from their criticisms. The response is always the same: "I never said that anyone should commit violence". They can stipr the pot and incite many but when something happens they merelt "wash their hands". It's sad but this is where we have "advanced" in this age of instant information and response.

    April 16, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  7. Wisconsonite - Be Informed; Not Just Opinionated!

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

    Truer words were never spoken. Thank you, President Clinton.

    April 16, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  8. mike

    He is preparing people for the agressive measures to be taken against American citizens by their own government. Yes, violence is brewing, for good reason, however it's not if it will spill over, it's how will the government repsond that is the issue here.

    Looks like Bill is getting us ready for the worst.

    Hate to say it, but government deserves every bit of angry reaction they are now getting and more.

    Failure should suck and have severe consequnces

    April 16, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  9. Joe

    The demagogues who keep whipping their followers into a frenzy with extremist rhetoric should study a little history. Once the genie is out of the bottle it's impossible to put it back in. There were those in Germany who thought the fledgling Nazi party could be "useful" toward achieving their ends. They ended up being some of the first victims.

    April 16, 2010 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  10. PA 4 Obama

    The president is absolutely right. Some of the rhetoric is borderline scary.

    April 16, 2010 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  11. Bob

    What a horrible comparison Bill. The Oklahoma City bomber was part of a group that did not even acknowledge the federal government and wanted to overthrow it. The Tea Party wants the government to listen to them and have more of an interactive relationship. To throw out this type of comparison is as stupid as the right trying to paint Code Pink and other anti-war protesters as terrorists. The branding of groups in which you do not agree with an incorrect assessment shows either a complete lack of intelligence on the issue or a deliberate attempt to create division. Which is it?

    CNN, have enough courage to post this as this issue has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with Americans turning on one another which HAS TO STOP.

    April 16, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  12. Rick in OP

    This is Clinton's back-door attempt at trying to portray critics of the Obama Administration as violent extremists. Democrats and Liberals like Clinton might want to reconsider their condescending treatment of Tea Party activists. From what I see, the Tea Party people are primarily fiscally conservative and are probably composed of the 50% of the people in this country who actually do pay federal income taxes.

    April 16, 2010 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  13. Nat, NYC

    Clinton...who?
    The problem is that the Members of Administration ignore the people's concerns, that is why people go to street to make government to pay attention. When they see thousands on streets they are getting scare and now they pay attention!

    April 16, 2010 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  14. Peggy Robson

    Funny, well not really funny but a couple of friends and I were just talking about the possibilites of anti-government actions that would be devastating to our country. There is so much going on we don't need violence in our streets. True, the government really does need to fix the horrible state of affairs that we are in right now and all Americans should be heard...we have a right as Americans to speak our peace but not to blow up buildings to prove a point, because that is really point less, like a child throwing a tantrum because things are not going in the direction that they would like. The problem as I see it, nothing is getting done and that is frustrating.

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

    Clinton needs to tell the liberals to cool down with their hate posts. Think that's not true just read the posts on any website and see where most of the name calling and hate speech comes from; from liberals almost everytime.

    April 16, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  16. geecee

    You are so right, President Clinton. We need to be very careful as there are truly a lot of psychotic, paranoid individuals in this Country who wouldn't think twice of repeating the horror of Timothy McVeigh, and feel perfectly justified by it. Fortunately, we have the FBI and ATF working diligently to protect our citizenry from this anger and hatred.

    April 16, 2010 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  17. Matt

    maybe if the gov would listen to the people they wouldnt be people upset with the gov...ever think of that Bill.......?

    April 16, 2010 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  18. Indyman

    Wise words from the ONLY fiscal conservative president we've had in many, many years.

    April 16, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  19. Common Sense

    Well said Bill!!!!

    April 16, 2010 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  20. katiec

    When you have the militia, tea partiers, radical republicans and irresponsible cpmmentators preaching hate, anger, fear mongering
    and supporting unrest, division within our country, then there is cause for real concern. When you have the Bachmans, Palins hysterical, prejudiced, unsubstantiated rantings and ravings,, and people who actually believe their garbage then there are problems.
    Have to believe intelligent people will stand up and say enough is
    enough, go back to the gutter where you belong.
    They all are trying to destroy our country and the greatness we once stood for.

    April 16, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  21. Tired Ant

    Yes, the American people should just shup up and take it, because only the government knows what's best for you, right, Wild Bill?

    Bill, the only thing you fear is loss of power, which is exactly why you co-opted the agenda of the republican congress in the 1995, after they painted you into a corner. The only thing these arrogant socialist elitist radicals fear is the serfs finally growing a pair and standing up to their economic belligerance.

    It's time to send the entire congress packing and start fresh.

    Re-elect nobody.
    Incubment Dump 2010

    April 16, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  22. Oregon calling

    Wow – do you think that those in the Tea Party would use the same wording? I thought that they wanted to "Target" the opposition??!

    Peace :-)

    April 16, 2010 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  23. LYNETTE IN CA

    Pres. Clinton is right, but I don't think it will make any difference to Bachman, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Palin and the rest of that GANG!

    It's very sad, but I completely believe the GANG really wants something terrible to happen here in the USA and they want it to happen in the next few months! The Cheneys too!

    If you look closely at them, you can see a bit of drool.

    April 16, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  24. dave

    The country that has provided perhaps the greatest personal liberties in the history of the world will be undone by angry people who claim everyone else but them hates America? Strange times...

    April 16, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  25. phoenix86

    Only liberals would say that a vocal opposition is dangerous. Where were they when they were comparing Bush to Hitler.

    What a bunch of lying hypocrites. I can't wait for the wholesale rejection of the democratic party in November.

    April 16, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
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