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. Too many angry right-wingers

    Clinton is right, of course. If the recently released survey of the Tea Party members is correct, there are a lot of disenfranchised white people who perceive justice for others as a threat to themselves. This is scary stuff.

    April 16, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  2. lisa

    Dear Mr. Clinton I voted for you twice, supported you during impeachment Contributed to your wife's campaign. Don't you dare tell me not to protest this administration. I will protest and speak out loudly whenever I see fit. You telling me to tone it down infuriates me. Healthcare reform, Cap & trade, Tax increases. Keep your mouth shut Bill

    April 16, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  3. Rick H.

    Right – where was he when the kooks were calling for Bush's assasination?

    Oh, I remember, he was continually breakng the gentleman's agreement among ex_Presidents to no criticize the current occupant openly, you know, like GWB doesn't criticize the current president even though he does something laughable almost daily.

    April 16, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  4. Mike

    The root of this problem is The Federal Leviathan that Thomas Jefferson and the Framers worried about 200+ years ago. There is no such thing as State's Rights anymore, State govts are puppets to Federal puppeteers, the Union no longer serves the interests of the member States but instead serves the interests of Federal patronage (e.g. corporations), and therein are sown the seeds of discontent, revolt, and ultimately violence. This makes The People angry. I don't like the nasty tone either, but we need to be honest with ourselves about the root causes if we aspire any hope to effect remedies. As long as The Federal Leviathan is serving the interests of corporate patronage and not the member States and their citizens, we're on the path to repeating the nastiest parts of our histtory.

    April 16, 2010 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  5. Gc

    And if you know how to find a website in 2010 you can navigate to the Waco Holocaust Museum online and witness how the Federal Government ran roughshod over the Constitutional rights of living breathing men women and children who's only crime was being in the wrong place in the middle of one of the most ridiculous sieges in American History. Yes, you better pray that history does not repeat itself in this fashion. They could have taken David Koresh out at anytime by simply waiting for him to leave the property and go on an errand. This is one of the most ridiculous comments on that entire situation, and I am not pleased that President Clinton chooses to compare today's situation with this fiasco. In my humble opinion the federal government shares equal responsibility for fanning those flames of discontent back then. The jury is still out on the present administration. One should tread carefully, i.e. "Don't Tread On Me". I am not a militia member or an extreme right wing "nut" but I am a free thinking concerned American citizen, so I heartily disagree with our former President.

    April 16, 2010 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  6. Robert

    I guess Bill forgot all the protesting that went on regarding the war in Vietnam......oh that's right – he was in London I guess. Well, this is nothing different and he is doing the fear mongering now. Come on President Clinton – we acknowledge you were correct about the 'fairytale'.

    April 16, 2010 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  7. Riley Johnson

    I am not smart enough to know, so I merely ask how President William Clinton came to have so much money in his checking account?

    April 16, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  8. Nobody Special

    Isn't it odd how the anti-government crowd is only anti-government when there is a Democrat in the White House?

    While many were against Bush, primarily for being an idiot, a corporate welfare provider, a war mongerer, a swaggerer and, most importantly, a religious nut, they were never anti-government, and never advocated violence or used terms like what's in use today by the tea party.

    What a bunch of loons.

    Unfortunately, loons with guns...but loons nonetheless.

    April 16, 2010 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  9. Gyrogearloose

    So, Bill, where were you when Bush was being heartily criticized by the left?

    This stinks of an attempt to smear the Tea Party people.

    April 16, 2010 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  10. Mark

    Obama bringing the country together one forced bill at a time!

    April 16, 2010 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  11. Frank Gotohell

    Bill Clinton contributed to demays of our country. He did nothing that helped the American people. He did everything to get rich. He has shown whoi he really is by what he did in the White House. He should keep quiet. And yes it is time for a revolt in Amereica. Lets call teh Taliban for some help

    April 16, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  12. cspurgeon

    He is right on. Its scary because the violent use the climate to justify their actions and talk. Its not the tea party perse but it is the fringies among them, the militant sprouting up among these fringies and the just plain loudmopuths try to score politically. Its both fringie right and left with some racism thrown in because we have a black president..Everyone needs to settle down, go ahead and speak their mind but get the hate toned down and instead support your point of view and this country. I just heatrd Fox and Huckabee talking this through and they immediately went to how dare he insinuate the tea party may be dangerous. Go to Church Huckabee..you are playing politicsn with God, Again only for political gain...The media needs to take a bath. Cut the advertising, get some of them get laid off and get out there with America looking for a job. Start banging on the advertisers of all these networks...

    April 16, 2010 04:56 pm at 4:56 pm |
  13. Flipper

    This shows why many Democrats & other Tea Party criticizers are so misled by their extreme partisanship. The people participating in Tea Party protests support the Constitution and democracy; they're just furious with Congressional leadership that is engaging in reckless & irresponsible fiscal policies that are bankrupting future generations and dooming the US to become a debt-ridden socialist nightmare.

    Besides, where was Clinton when anti-war protesters said some of the most disgusting things imaginable during the Bush administration, or where was Clinton when the Dems were engaging in their hate screech against Sarah Palin and her family in 2008 (and afterwards)? That's right...he was largely (if not completely) MIA.

    Does anybody remember when Dems argued that dissent was the highest form of patriotism? I guess they were just kidding, right?

    April 16, 2010 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  14. susanj

    you watch – it will be a tea partier to take the first shot. and you can thank the nut jobs – beck, bachman, limbaugh, palin and Fox News when it happens. all they do is spew hate and racism.

    April 16, 2010 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    I couldn't agree more! All these teabagers are nothing but radical extremist pretending to care about the budget deficit!

    April 16, 2010 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  16. JFK

    The level of hatred and anger in this country is frankly disturbing. Its a sad display to the world at how far backwards we have gone as a country.

    April 16, 2010 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  17. Liam

    Clinton was a good President. Obama is not fit to be in the same sentence. President Clinton knew how to move to the center and the country flourished when that happened. He is right about an anti-government attitude as people are fed up. Obama is such a partisan and inexperienced leader he just fans the flames daily. I have never seen people with such vehement when speaking of our President and I have been around a long time.

    April 16, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  18. WrongKindofChange

    Leave it to the democrats to make it seem like everyone who is against their policies is therefore an extremist, anti-government, wack job. Just because we don't agree with your policies, it doesn't mean we're extremist or terrorists.

    Get a clue. We don't agree with your policies because they are bad for America and are tearing this country down. Who needs terrorists when you have the democrats running this country.

    April 16, 2010 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. Tex Geoas

    PURE DEMAGOGERY... and Clinton knows it.
    The big problem is... the media is NOT REPORTING TRUTHFULLY about the Tea Party and its rallies. We are not so much angry as DETERMINED. The liberals and the democrats know this and fear it. All the attempts to disparage and discredit the Tea Party will not work. We recognize it for what it is... Alinsky-style radical attacks.

    See you in November... at the ballot box. That will be the big sound you hear.

    April 16, 2010 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  20. JIM El Paso TX

    Bill hit the nail on the head this time. Way to many nut cases out there that just need to hear someone expounding on their causes to do something STUPID thinking its their "calling". Too bad the don't realize those doing the talking are nobodys !

    April 16, 2010 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  21. Jerry - Florida

    Hey Bill did you get your script from Nancy Pelosi? Basically your opinions are starting to sound like Bobblehead Pelosi. What are you people afraid of.

    You and your wife used to be held in such high esteem. NOT any longer! Just like the Hypocrite-in-Chief, you both have shown your true colors.

    Some advise: If your wife ever has any hopes of winning the presidency of this nation, you better rethink what you say about the Tea Party movement. They will remember come election time.

    Lastly, don't you think you are irrelevant?

    April 16, 2010 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  22. Steve Arnett

    Mr. Clinton continiues his monopoly of disingenuity. Timothy McVeigh's actions were a direct response to the governement violence against its own citizens.
    I hope Bill Clinton still has sleepless nights over his over-reactions at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
    The difference between then and now is that our elected representatives are ignoring the will of the electorate. I think the reaction to this is entirely predictable, with the overwhelming majority being peaceful, as is the case with Tea Party.
    But what spin to cast the violent and incendiary language as coming only from the Right! Go back and look up some quotes from Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi when Bush was still in the White House.

    April 16, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  23. RCasson

    It is so true what he is saying. These tea party loons are going to get people killed if they don't stop.

    April 16, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  24. D

    If someone did something violent against our government, could Michelle Bachman be arrested? There is precedent where someone can be charged with a crime when they didn't actually do the deed. She is as close as anyone to inciting such behavior and in a just world she would be held accountable. I live in her district.

    April 16, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  25. myarwanda

    This ticker is the kind of forum Bill is talking about. Whoever (from both sides) posts here a response to his observations, please stop yourself from the "fueling", eg calling others "haters, moroons, etc"

    April 16, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
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