BYRON WILLIAMS’ MOTIVATIONS…. Over the summer, Byron Williams, an anti-government zealot, 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.

The relatively obscure Tides Foundation is a favorite target of Glenn Beck. The non-profit organization supports “sustainability, better education, solutions to the AIDS epidemic and human rights,” but the deranged Fox News personality has nevertheless labeled Tides a major cog in some larger conspiracy to destroy capitalism.

Was Williams inspired by Beck? Dana Milbank’s column today sheds some light on the subject.

Glenn Beck has a friend in California. “I would’ve never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there,” says this friend, Byron Williams. “And it was the things he did, it was the things he exposed, that blew my mind.”

“I do enjoy Glenn Beck,” Williams also says, “and the reason why I enjoy that is because… no other channel will speak about the same things that he’s talking about, and if you go and investigate those things you’ll find out that they’re true.”

To be sure, criminals are responsible for their crimes, and in this case, Beck didn’t tell Williams to launch a violent attack. But there are some relevant details here that speak to a larger truth.

Williams completed a couple of jailhouse interviews, one of which will be published by Media Matters tomorrow, and Milbank notes that 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.”

Beck, who has encouraged his followers to hear what he is saying “between the sentences” he actually utters, gave legitimacy to Williams’s conspiracy theories.

“So now they’ve got Beck labeled as this guy that is trying to incite violence, and what I say is that if the truth incites violence, it means that we’ve been living too long in the lies,” Williams told Hamilton. “You know, when you become unemployed, desperate, you can no longer pay your bills… what do you think is gonna happen? You know, for crying out loud. It’s gonna get worse, and more and more people are gonna get desperate.”

Particularly if they have an enabler in the mass media.

By any reasonable measure, 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.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.