‘Like a schoolteacher on TV’

‘LIKE A SCHOOLTEACHER ON TV’…. As promised, Media Matters has published its “Progressive Hunter” piece, featuring an extensive interview with Byron Williams, the right-wing extremist who, over the summer, loaded up his mother’s truck with firearms, put on body armor, and headed to San Francisco with the intention of starting a violent rampage. He didn’t reach his destination — Williams initiated a shootout with police in Oakland after being pulled over for driving erratically — but his goal was to “start a revolution” with bloodshed at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation.

Williams, we now know, was inspired in large part by Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who even helped influence his targets for violence. The Media Matters report notes not only Williams’ chilling story, but the larger context.

Fifteen years after militia-movement-inspired bombers killed 168 people in the Oklahoma City federal building, right-wing domestic terror plots are a fact of life in America. Since 2008, violent extremists — many of whom subscribe to the hate speech and conspiratorial fantasies of the conservative media — have murdered churchgoers in Knoxville, police officers in Pittsburgh, and an abortion provider in Wichita. […]

In a 2009 report, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the anti-government militia movement — which had risen to prominence during the Clinton administration and faded away during the Bush years — has returned. According to the SPLC, the anti-government resurgence has been buttressed by paranoid rhetoric from public officials like Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and media figures like Fox News’ Glenn Beck.

Just last month, Gregory Giusti pleaded guilty to repeatedly threatening House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — including threatening to destroy her California home — because he was “upset with her passing the health care law.” His mother told a local news station that he “frequently gets in with a group of people that have really radical ideas,” adding, “I’d say Fox News or all of those that are really radical, and he — that’s where he comes from.”

Williams, in particular, seems to have based much of his twisted worldview on Beck’s programs, David Horowitz propaganda, and the work of Internet conspiracist and repeated Fox News guest Alex Jones, all of whom helped inspire Williams’ notion of a “revolution.”

Williams concedes that Beck doesn’t instruct his followers to commit violence, but the host will “give you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need.”

He added that Beck is “like a schoolteacher on TV.”

As Dana Milbank noted yesterday, Williams’ comments “show precisely why Beck is dangerous: because his is the one voice in the mass media that validates conspiracy theories held by the unstable.” He’s not calling for violence, but Beck is “giving voice and legitimacy to the violent fringe.”

I continue to strongly believe criminals are ultimately responsible for their crimes, but Beck is whipping up a confused and easily-misled mob into a rage, lying to them with deranged theories, and pointing them in a direction. That’s legal and his speech is protected by the First Amendment. But the sooner Beck, his network, his sponsors, and the media conglomerate that signs his checks show some restraint, and take some responsibility for dousing a simmering flame with lighter fluid, the safer we’ll be.