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. anna kest

    Perhaps if the government would go back to the old way of things-and by that I mean democracy-then perhaps the country wouldn't be in such a state.
    Give us back our freedoms as free people-

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

    When the right doesn't win they turn into domestic terrorist.

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

    The parallels between 1995 and 2010 are that both Bill Clinton and Obama were in the first terms of their presidencies and pushing their liberal agendas, ie universal healthcare, etc. What's shocking is that Clinton would actually admit he presided a period of "economic and social upheaval," I thought he was smarter than that... normally everything considered bad is conservative or Republicans, and everything good is thankful to Democrats such as Clinton and the current messiah. Of course the Dems would never admit that they caused the upheaval by going against the will of a majority of Americans... not smart Dems anyway.

    April 16, 2010 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  4. garc

    Smart man. I hope the right people are listening (i.e., the people who have the power to discourage this behavior, rather than encourage it or tacitly approve since it's "part of the base").

    April 16, 2010 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  5. hes

    "We don't want to go down it again!" If he is talking about the Clinton and Obama road I AGREE. Let's don't do it again. Look where it's gotten us both times!

    April 16, 2010 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  6. Felly

    Bill Clinton is a class act. Tea Party protesters are morons. Why don't they live in a society without govenment at all, no laws, no roads, no bridges, no water, no Police, no Fire Service, no Military etc. and let's see how they will survive. These guys are cowards and resistant to change. Why did they not protest when George Bush was the President and drove our country from a budget surplus to a state of hopelessness.

    April 16, 2010 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  7. Sam

    Yep...and People like Sarah Palin who are riling up people aren't helping matters any.

    April 16, 2010 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    was there outcry for the left wing anti goverment groups who actually carried out acts of domestic terror under bush? Bombing a recruitung center in New York, demoishing Green homes in Cali, or destroying a lot of Hummers?

    April 16, 2010 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  9. chris

    Bill, can we bring you back as president?

    April 16, 2010 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  10. Anna

    Sounds like slick Willy is setting the stage for government internet controls... what next?

    April 16, 2010 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  11. Michael

    My question is, and why so many in power and the media try to avoid the issue, but where were these big government hating people for the last 8 years? Where was the outrage when Bush busted the budget with tax cuts for the rich and funding 2 wars. Why do they rise when Democrats are in office?

    The Tea Partyers are not the wealthy. They are not carrying the heavy tax burden, the Obamas (1.7 million in taxes) and Oprah are. Most look like high school educated working class people with working class incomes. Nothing wrong with that, but they are.

    We know the answer, but are too afraid to call them for what they are, right-wing, facsist movements not in Germany, but right here in America.

    April 16, 2010 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  12. Sherlock

    I think Mr. Clinton is right to be concerned, the mood in this country has been getting very ugly indeed. When you are able to demonize the groups you are opposed too it becomes a short step into violence.

    April 16, 2010 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  13. Suncatcher

    We do not hate our form of government nor wish it ill will. To the contrary, we despise a Congress and president who so arrogantly – and for the first time ever – totally ignore the will of the people. We are angered by the grossly apparent attempt to change our form of government – and we are willing to speak out. We still have freedom of speech and assembly – or do we?

    The Tea Party and other groups are a sympton of this arrogance of power. These groups are forming because they feel a need to protect our Constitutional rights. We the American citizens, feel we HAVE to. We have been told by this Washington to "shut up and do as we are told." That we are "too stupid to know what is right for this country."

    Attention Washington – I am only a small part of this huge and rapidly growing group that is the backlash – YOU CAUSED – and you can expect more come November. You earned it.


    April 16, 2010 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  14. lolo

    He is correct in his assessment. You do not have to be black or any other race to see what this tea party group is all about. The republican politicians are just sweeping it under the rug, pretending they are blind, but something bad is going to happen and it will be too late to stop these people. S. Palin and the rest of her croonies are only thinking about themselves. These tea partiers hate that a black man is president and that is the bottom line., of course they will never admit it. Like they say you can fool some people some of the time, but you can't fool all people all of the time. The only way we can shut them down is to vote them down. There is so much hatred in their faces when you look at them on the news. That look I have seen before and it was the same look as in the 50's and 60's. They think that they are taking care of everyone when actually my generation is taking care of them while they are on ssi and other government programs . They are angry because the white race is becoming a minority, but they have no one to blame but themselves. They are the ones who wanted cheap labor, so they figured to oppress the black people, use the asians for cheap labor. Now that we are all here they want to complain. Remember the minoritys pay taxes as much as the tea partiers do. They are just complaining because the rich will get no more breaks. The middle class is tired of taking care of the rich.

    April 16, 2010 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  15. Dale Smith

    I attended a tea party yesterday. it was a gathering of a few people, maybe about 50-70 people, at a park in Clayton California. People were exercised about the direction of the country but were peaceful. I do wonder why the media gets so exercised when individuals who think limited government is the best government from groups. I think a more open minded attitude is necessary in this country. People DO have the right to disagree with the government policy and direction.

    It is my hope and prayer that reasonable people will once replace the deal makers in the Federal, State, County, and City governments of this country.

    My fear is we will continue to let the power brokers lull the population with the same tired distortions of yesteryear.

    April 16, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  16. Steph

    Very true. The extremists are getting all hyped up again. Domestic terrorism is as damaging as international terrorism, maybe even worse.

    April 16, 2010 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  17. Former Republican, now an Independent

    Bill Clinton is right on. These folks are being fueled by hate groups and highly publicized by the extremist views on radical stations such as Fox News. These people have many similarities to the ultra conservative movements in Europe in the late 30's called the Nazi's.

    April 16, 2010 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  18. Monica

    As usual Bill Clinton speaks sensible, clearly and concise and he is absolutely right. Making threats and using incendiary language is going to far. These threats are terroristic in nature and there are people who will buy in to this talk because they aren't right in the mind. Agree to disagree but don't threaten people for doing their job.

    April 16, 2010 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  19. Jai in Chicago

    I completely agree with Bill Clinton. We should be able to have civilized debate and work towards a resolution. Too often we have these people jumping up shouting "Baby Killer" and "Gangster Government." Where were they when Gangsta G.W. Bush went and started this war he couldn't finish? Went after a country that had not attacked us. Where were these people that were so concerned about the deficit, when we were sending billions of dollars per month to "fight terror" when terror wasn't fighting us in Iraq, but threw Afghanistan to the wind? Why didn't these people "rise up" when our good good government made it attractive for american companies to ship american jobs to India – but yet we complain when the person at the phone company can't understand us? Now you have a president that is actually trying to HELP the people and theres this backlash? The rich are complaining about having to pay a 1/2 percentage higher tax so we can provide healthcare coverage for our citizens? I don't care about the size of our government as long as my government works for me. I don't care if martians were in the oval office, as long as my needs were being met and my freedom protected. It's sad how dilluted our society has become. When people like Sarah Palin, who quit her job as governor within 2 years to sign books and host a reality tv show, has a political voice – The same voice she uses to discredit the current President because of his "lack of experience." But yet people follow her? Are you kidding me.... It's disguesting.

    April 16, 2010 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  20. jake1969

    I know government has issues, but I too am sick of all the anti-government garbage. Look, we have the 3rd lowest tax burden in the entire developed world (only Mexico and South Korea are lower), yet the strongest military, good infrastructure, successful social security and medicare systems, cleaner air and water than many countries, great park and forest systems, etc. Further, the largest expenditures go to National Security and Social Security and Medicare at the Federal level and to public safety, infrastructure and education at the local level.

    Of course we should scrutinize and demand good use of our tax dollars. But let's get a grip. Compared to utopia our governments suck...compared to actual human history, it's one of the best systems ever.

    Do you all really want these anti-government nuts running the show instead?

    April 16, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  21. willardbullock

    Well iunderstand what clinton said his word but I ask why why he never catch what happened about bomb so presdient bush was succffusel caught charge against terroist

    April 16, 2010 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  22. Jed


    I don't think you should equate the current grassroots rejection of bigger government with the violent wackos who bombed the Federal building

    April 16, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  23. Annie, Atlanta

    Where are the Republicans who actually have the guts to stand up and say enough? They're too afraid to piss off their base, who won't turn out to elect them to a government they profess to hate.

    Members of Congress are fueling this fire. I don't think I've ever seen this in my lifetime. And we're paying them with our tax dollars! They should be impeached, or recalled, or whatever the process to get rid of these traitors.

    April 16, 2010 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  24. Perusing-through

    Thank you President Clinton.

    The media must do its job and shine a light on this growing hatred based on lies from Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rush "The Pig" Limbaugh.

    April 16, 2010 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  25. dthompson

    ......no one in Washington will listen to the people that pays the bill.the Libs forced the health care and that's why we have a tea party running around making noise....people are pissed. Our Pres.is not working on getting job and he needs to stay off the tv......

    April 16, 2010 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
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