As published in the “New York Daily News” on Sunday, October 17, 2010, by Bill Press:
He made a simple statement: “The words we use really do matter.”
Yet conservatives slammed former President Bill Clinton for making that comment.
We now know how right Clinton was. Words can trigger violence – whether they come from extremist Muslim clerics or rabid right-wing ideologues. Media Matters for America proved as much this week by publishing an incendiary interview with Byron Williams, a Timothy McVeigh wanna-be, arrested by Oakland, Calif., police on July 18.
Pulled over for driving erratically on an Oakland freeway, Williams – armed with two handguns and a rifle – opened fire on police officers. After a 12-minute shootout, he was subdued, arrested and taken to the hospital, where he told police he was on his way to San Francisco to “start a revolution” by killing employees of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU. He later told Examiner.com that he planned to assassinate 11 leaders of the Tides Foundation – to compensate for 11 men killed in the explosion of the BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.
Why the Tides Foundation? In an interview from Santa Rita jail, Williams laid out a bizarre theory: Financier George Soros invests $1 billion in the Brazilian oil company Petrobras; President Obama in turn sends $2 billion of taxpayer dollars for deep water oil exploration; together, they hire Halliburton to blow up the BP platform in order to get rid of competition for Petrobras and put pressure on Congress to pass cap and trade legislation. And they were doing it all, Williams asserted, with the help and support of the little-known Tides Foundation.
Little known, that is, except to followers of Glenn Beck, who has vilified Tides as a “shady organization” that funnels money to “some of the most extreme groups on the left.” Beck, in fact, attacked Tides 29 times on his Fox News show in the 18 months leading up to Williams’ shooting spree. Employing his trademark blackboard, Beck accused Soros of using Tides to “create mass organizations to seize power.”
Williams says he also learned about Tides from conservative activist David Horowitz. But he gives special credit to Beck. “I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there,” he assured Hamilton. “And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind.” It was in response to what he heard about Soros and the Tides Foundation – theories he took from Beck’s show and elsewhere in the right-wing media – that he acted, says Williams. “That’s why I did what I did.”
Williams stops short of blaming Beck for inciting him to violence. He knows that, on national radio and television, a talk show host can only go so far. “Beck is gonna deny everything about violent approach and deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe it. He’s protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that. So, I understand what he’s doing.”
But here’s the problem: Glenn Beck doesn’t understand what Glenn Beck is doing. He doesn’t understand, as Bill Clinton explained on April 16, that the words talk show hosts use really do matter because “there’s this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.”
So when Bill O’Reilly calls Dr. George Tiller “Tiller the baby Killer,” or when Michael Savage says “We need to do the same thing to Muslims that the good Germans did to the Christ killers,” or when Glenn Beck warns the Tides Foundation that “I’m coming for you” before clarifying that he isn’t “making threats” – it’s no surprise that an unhinged person might consider it his duty to take matters into his own hands.
Now, the question is: Seeing how dangerous his words can be, will Glenn Beck rein himself in? Will Fox News rein him in?
Innocent lives could depend upon it.