With the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing approaching, former President Bill Clinton on Thursday drew parallels between the antigovernment tone that preceded that devastating attack and the political tumult of today, saying government critics must be mindful that angry words can stir violent actions.
In advance of a symposium on Friday about the attack on the Oklahoma City federal building and its current relevance, Mr. Clinton, who was in his first term at the time of the bombing, warned that attempts to incite opposition by demonizing the government can provoke responses beyond what political figures intend.
There can be real consequences when what you say animates people who do things you would never do,” Mr. Clinton said in an interview, saying that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing, and those who assisted him, “were profoundly alienated, disconnected people who bought into this militant antigovernment line.”
The former president said the potential for stirring a violent response might be even greater now with the reach of the Internet and other common ways of communication that did not exist on April 19, 1995, when the building was struck.
In the period before the Oklahoma City bombing, there was a growing antigovernment sentiment being expressed through a militia movement and anger at government officials, some of it in the wake of the assault on the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Tex., on April 19, 1993. Mr. Clinton recalls that he and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, were characterized by Newt Gingrich, then the Republican Congressional leader, as the enemies of ordinary Americans.
In a May 1995 commencement speech at Michigan State University, Mr. Clinton talked about the bombing and the role he believed efforts to portray the government and its workers as a threat played in the attack.
“It is one thing to believe we are over-regulated and to work to lessen the burden of regulation,” he said at the time. “It is quite another to slander our dedicated public servants, our brave police officers, even our rescue workers, who have been called a hostile army of occupation.”
Mr. Clinton said the impact of political attacks could be dangerously amplified at the moment because of the economic upheaval that had left many Americans frightened and suffering. “A lot of people are just raw,” he said.
He called America a nation born out of protests, and said that he had no interest in reducing productive civic dialogue.
“This is about holding our country together and having these debates,” he said. “The Republicans will have their chance in November.”
How can a militia forming in Oklahoma to defend the State AGAINST the Federal Government NOT sound frightening?
OKLAHOMA CITY — Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.
Tea party movement leaders say they’ve discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.
“Is it scary? It sure is,” said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. “But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?”