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. saintpaul

    I share President Clinton's concern. If you listen to the Tea Party members, their arguments against what ever they are against are most often either vague or mis-informed. The only clarity to their statements appears to be anger. The media needs to focus on legitimate debate and stop focusing in on the extreme statements and, especially, giving credence to known mis-statements of fact and giving falsehoods parity with substantiated facts. Providing balanced and reasoned argument and discouraging angry rhetoric and dispelling effectively known falsehoods would do a lot to calm people down.

    April 16, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  2. Wallace Billingham

    WOW

    Did Mr. Clinton forget that it was the US Governments killing of US citizens at Ruby Ridge and Waco that lead Timothy McVeigh to do the Oklahoma City bombing?

    You know that event at Waco that his administration failed to manage that lead to the killings of women and children?

    April 16, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  3. paul

    Bubba is irrelevant and should keep his mouth closed......

    April 16, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  4. Independent One

    Smart Man....Well Said!

    April 16, 2010 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  5. j gallagher

    this is a gangster government
    they take resourses from a citizen at gunpoint to give these resources
    to another citizen this is armed robbery which is what gangsters do

    April 16, 2010 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  6. Steve, New York City

    I think that Clinton might be correct.
    With respect to the Tea Party, "I am with them" on their concerns about big government, out-of-control taxation/spending and high deficits.

    However, some comments that I see make me worry that there is a strong, extremist element in that crowd (if you're not white and angry, you're somehow less American than they are) . . .hard to believe that some of this hasn't been instigated by this country now having mulatto president.

    April 16, 2010 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  7. Nodack

    I blame FOX News for instigating all of this discord. They have made it their agenda to spread lies, hate, doom and gloom and are doing everything in their power to undermine the government. Some people believe everything they say and I think that is an American tragedy and I hope one day people will see it for what it is. It's a GOP propaganda machine and nothing else. I will never again vote for a Republican and I consider FOX News evil.

    April 16, 2010 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  8. unshrub

    A majority of the tea party members did not vote in the last several elections and now they are upset because they aren't getting their way. They don't care about democracy, they only care about mob rule. They expect to get their way. I voted along with the majority of voters and we voted for the man who promised health care reform. Tea party members are selfish because they want to pay NO taxes and they do not care about the constitution except when it helps them. Sarah Palin belonged to an organization that wanted to succeed from the United States. You don't get any worse then that. They can go to h$ll because they don’t believe in democracy or they would have voted.

    April 16, 2010 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  9. Tam

    These comments should be repeated often and widely. McVeigh was not a foreign terrorist.

    April 16, 2010 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  10. rangram

    Clinton's still an idiot...it's OK for libs to protest but not conservatives. Gimme a break...please....

    April 16, 2010 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  11. Steve (the real one)

    They were elected. They are not doing anything they were not elected to do."
    I actually like former Pres Clinton and agree that violence is not the path to take. I do have an issue with his "they are elected" quote. if you take a look at some of the promises and then look at some of the actions, they don't quite line up! No lobbyists was the promise! Waivers for lobbyists was the action! Granted he (Obama) warned us about fundamental changes coming! We just wasn't smart enough to ask what does that mean! Now we know! For everyone crowing about tax cuts. Taxes for health care has not kicked in yet, the Bush tax cuts has not yet expired and they will, Cap and Trade has not yet come to the forefront, and VAT is still being discussed! Don't get too giddy about a tax cut , it won't last!

    April 16, 2010 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  12. Hannah

    What some of these people don't realize is that we need government working for us, with oversight and controls. We saw how that failed with the last administration, when the SEC, FEMA, FDA, had funding cut and the professionals who had been working for these agencies either were fired or quit and of course the agencies were not effective. With the FDA for instance, can any one person test every product they buy for toxic chemicals. No, that's what FDA does for us. And the SEC was supposed to be the watchdog over the banking industry but the rules were weakened and the agency again gutted and so we have the mess we are in today. We need more government, not less.

    April 16, 2010 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  13. Ralph

    This is getting scary! The nut-jobs are coming out of the woodwork! The right wing keeps fanning the flames in hopes of scoring a few votes. They have no shame...

    April 16, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  14. Griff

    Of course people are going to point fingers and criticize him for the McVeigh comparison, but the reality is; he's right. In the past two weeks alone we've heard Palin talk about "Reloading" and it's been followed up by the Tea Party talking about "taking aim" at their "targets". It's only words right now, but it's getting worse and before too long someone is going to do something that everyone will regret.

    April 16, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  15. Don B

    I fell that "ANY" group threatens any of our National leaders and the saftey of the American people, this is an act of Terrorism and anit-American attitude. These groups and those who are encouraging should be placed under arrest as would any other person who threatens the safety of the American people and it's leaders. This includes Sarah Palin and especially those elected byt the peoplr to uphold the laws of this land.

    April 16, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  16. Aspen Professor

    Clinton's correct. The hard core Tea Party and their brick throwing, spitting, low IQ, idiots are being stirred up by the Fox Channel and the Repub leadership(?).

    Question for the Media who seem asleep on this issue – – – Who is paying for the Transport, meals, hotel rooms, sign prep, and other costs of the rants and raves by the Tea Party members around the Country?

    47% of Americans DO NOT pay Federal Income Taxes. About 80% of the Tea Party DO Not PAY FEDERAL TAXES. That, by their own definition, makes them free-loaders and welfare recipients.

    SO - WHAT THE HECK ARE THEY whining, stomping their feet, and screaming about? No doubt about it, the words are being "planted" in their mouths. They appear too dumb to think for themselves.

    April 16, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  17. kcl

    He's right, but unfortunately the only conclusion that will be drawn is that both he and Obama are democrat presidents. The extremists are indeed scary.

    April 16, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  18. dg

    the libs are scared that citizens are rallying against their lies

    April 16, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  19. Kevin

    This is pathetic talk from the liberal left. The same people who wanted all things free and be able to speak up about it,demonstrate with the flower power of the 70's. The womens movement, black panthers, march for equality and all of that. These same people are now afraid of grandmas, grandpas, the elderly and a lot of middle class people who attend the tea party and the grass roots movement of conservative ,God fearing Americans. Sick words coming from Mr Clinton indeed.

    April 16, 2010 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  20. RaulD

    Bill Clinton's ludicrous OKC bombing comparison is as vile as the propaganda from the right. Double standard duly noted. Please, Bill ... go away, or at least stop your hate mongering.

    April 16, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  21. Roger

    Mr Clinton and Obama are living in a dream world. This movement is far greater than anything prior to this in the USA. Obama and his stoolies will be looking for work soon!

    April 16, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  22. Michael

    So you can call talk radio (i.e. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity) "extremists" without any evidence, but you're fellow dem president, Obama, won't use "terrorists" or "extremists" as a label for known Islamic radicals.

    That's why Obama's new name is SnObama – because he's giving us the snow job.

    April 16, 2010 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  23. catmomtx

    And Bill Clinton would know. Republicans spent eight years and 80 million dollars trying to destroy Clinton and it didn't work. They tried to destroy as many people around the Clinton's that they could. Guess what, Bill Clinton was still an excellent President. Republicans started all the hate politics and whine like babies when it is pointed out.

    April 16, 2010 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  24. shawn

    Miss you Bill!

    April 16, 2010 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  25. Colleen

    well said Bill...but I think these incendiary talkers like Michele Bachman, and others, do know what they are doing.
    They are in fact trying to instigate their 'surrogate terrorists' to do the things they..the outrageous talkers...are unwilling to do themselves...doesn't mean they don't want someone else to do it...
    My wish is they will be held accountable when one of their listeners does something...they will bear a moral if not an actual responsibility...

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