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. klf

    Mr. Clinton, you are so right and boy do we miss you.

    Pretty soon we'll all be wearing towels on our heads and living in dirt caves.

    April 16, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  2. Avg Guy in Red State Kansas

    The scary thing is Mr. Clinton is right.

    There is an abundance of hateful rhetoric in our society today thanks to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Their distortions of facts and outright lies have heated up dialogue in America to the boiling point.

    What's most unfortunate is that so many people mimicking Limbaugh and Beck, spewing out hateful words. These people listen only to their own kind and don't bother to seek out perspectives that differ from their own.

    Then, there's Fox News which encourages hatespeech and mocks anyone with differing views. The company has no corporate compass whatsoever.

    It doesn't take a genius to realize that hateful words lead to hateful actions. I just hope we don't wake up to another Oklahoma City bombing thanks brought about by the vile rhetoric of the far right.

    April 16, 2010 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  3. Nunya

    Now watch the loonies distort his words to mean that he wants to stifle them – even though he explicitly said that he did not...

    April 16, 2010 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  4. gerryluimes

    How refreshing to be able to listen to a voice of reason.! Hope there are millions more like it in a country that seems to be tearing itself apart.
    gerry at edmonton.can

    April 16, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  5. mary from minnesota

    Thank you, Bill! It's about time someone busted through all the unbelievable rhetoric. Nicely done.

    "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.""

    April 16, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  6. Phil

    The Tea Party just hates the fact that we have the nation's first black president. You wouldn't see people as angry were he white like them. They are like Nazis.

    April 16, 2010 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  7. Wade

    If the U.S. Government followed the law (Constitution), as it is suppose to (I mean ACTUALLY follow the law, to the letter), I highly doubt we would even have a need for group(s) like the so called "Tea Party". If we had followed our nations roots more closely, and stayed the course of an egalitarian(ism) nation, we wouldn't have these problems of today. Mr. Bill Clinton and his one world government views for example, is a contributing problem and not a part of the solution. Like his wife, he needs to go away as soon as possible.

    April 16, 2010 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  8. JMS

    Excellent! Now the Dems and Capital Hill are finally taking notice that all of the Tea Parties are FOR REAL and there is a GROWING LEGION of citizens that are sick and tired of our defunct and broken government spending our tax dollars in ways that have never made common sense and should be completely re-engineered.

    You keep spewing the rhetoric, Slick Willie. Now go find some gal in a blue dress and share a Cohiba with her. Yes, Willie, we ARE going down that road once again. Be afraid....be very, very afraid.

    April 16, 2010 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  9. Liz the First

    And if someond or a bunch of people do die at the hands of these whack jobs, are the likes of Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh, Palin, and the other rabid talking heads going to take even one iota of responsibility for their incendiary language inciting the violence? heavens, no. yes, we have freedom of speech in this country, but with freedom comes responsibility. and these hate spewers feel no sense of responsibility to control and moderate whatever comes out of their mouths. they just make stuff up out of whole cloth and figure if it's repeated enough, the stupid among us will buy it. and that, sadly, is the case. all you have to do is read posts from the likes of 'wake up,' and 'liberalism is a mental disorder' to see that these lies are having their desired effect. if there is lethal violence as a result of all this hate talk, the aforementioned hate TV hosts should be charged with accessory after the fact. maybe that would get them to think before they spew.

    April 16, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. Grog in Ohio

    And this possibility, IMHO, is why even Faux Noise is backing off its support of these tea baggers. Even Faux Noise doesn't want to be associated with deadly spate of violence from a nutcase.

    April 16, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  11. Andy

    So now we compare everyone who disagrees with a government program to Timothy McVeigh. If I have a complaint with the school committee does that count too? Stop comparing people who have legitimate concerns about the Debt and future for our children to radical right wingers. It is time for Clinton and the Obama camp to return their copies of Mein Kampf to the library, they are overdue.

    April 16, 2010 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  12. Jim Bob

    People become cyber-recluses. They only communicate with like-minded mutants. These sociopaths are casualties of the Information Age, and their self-destructive mentality is dangerous to innocent bystanders.

    April 16, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  13. Willy Brown

    Bill & Wolf using the democrat playbook play # 102 “Start out playing the race card”. Set the tone; blame the Americans who don’t want socialism. Were not anti government Billy boy, we are anti communist!

    April 16, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  14. DrScott622

    Clinton is absolutely right. These Right Wing talk show hosts don't care about the radicalism they are preaching to their simpleton listeners. All it takes is one of these nutcases.

    April 16, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. Jeff of Peoria

    He's RIGHT!! (actually Pres Clinton's a little on the left) Whenever Washington goes too far right or left, the radicals come out of the woodwork and feed off the misery of others.

    But the past 3 administrations have had to learn that the hard way.

    April 16, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  16. FireEater1

    McVeigh was a plant. Bubba ordered the hit on the government so he could blame the right and make them look like extremists.

    April 16, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  17. Mike

    "You can't say you love your country, and hate your government" – Clinton

    Tells you all you need to know about this guy. He does not truly believe in criticism of the government. His only goal here is to demonize the tea party people. Not cool.

    April 16, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  18. DJ

    I agree with President Clinton 100%. The sad thing is that time something happens then these propoganda pushers will claim innocence and say its not there fault.

    April 16, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  19. John

    Could it be that the Elitists are becoming a little afraid of the people ? Thats a good thing !

    April 16, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  20. Palin Power

    Shut your trap Bubba. President Sarah Palin will be a greater president than Bubba Clinton could ever be. Bubba wears the skirt in the Clinton family while Hitlery wears the pants. President Palin will bring real change to this country with the Palin Revolution and turn the USA into the Palination!

    April 16, 2010 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    Amazing he can draw such parellels. To bad he could not have foreseen that crazy lib that flew a plane into the IRS or done something to stop the worst terrorist attack on the U.S, like arrest or kill Osama.

    April 16, 2010 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  22. No More Incumbents

    It's called a revolt Bill. We're tired of politicians, like you and your wife, Obama, Reid, Pelosi, Dodd, Rangel, Frank, Spitzer, Corzine, etc, etc, etc, who are self-serving ego maniacs, who don't care about the people who they fooled into electing them.

    April 16, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  23. vox

    Bill, take care of Haiti and zip it, you have done enough damage.
    Your ego is way overinflated. You allowed Reno to screw up that incident in Waco and in doing so made yourself and your administration look foolish and shortsigheted and indirectly caused the deaths of many innocent unaware citizens. Ya wanna fix something, fix Haiti, Haitians bodies have been washing ashore for 4 decades. Bored, tackle Haiti and get it right. We are still paying dearly for sams payback with nafta. You have embarassed yourself, your family and our country, could be time to take your foot out of your mouth and take it to the porch there fella. Let the current administration do their jobs. Doing just fine without ya, thank ya very much, for your service. Now hang out the shingle gone fishing with georgee.

    April 16, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  24. Dave

    Billy Boy quotes: "They are not doing anything they were not elected to do."

    Puleeze. What rock has he been under?

    April 16, 2010 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  25. Padraig

    Why is it always the Tea Party. Even though he states that most of the them stay denounce violence. The Tea Party are the people (Democrat, Republican, Libritarian, etc..) who are fed up with mis-management of our government. They have spoken up against both Republican and Democrats.

    People need to stand up and be accounted for and stop expecting hand outs from our government. That is how we got into this welfare state.

    My question is where are the jobs they promised?

    April 16, 2010 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
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