As idiotic as Glenn Beck is, and as warped as David Horowitz’s web sites are (which includes Robert Spencer’s cash cow, Jihad Watch), their words are leading some Americans to take up violent action against those they disagree with.
Byron Williams, a 45-year-old ex-felon, exploded onto the national stage in the early morning hours of July 18.
According to a police investigation, Williams opened fire on California Highway Patrol officers who had stopped him on an Oakland freeway for driving erratically. For 12 frantic minutes, Williams traded shots with the police, employing three firearms and a small arsenal of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds fired from a .308-caliber rifle.
When the smoke cleared, Williams surrendered; the ballistic body armor he was wearing had saved his life. Miraculously, only two of the 10 CHP officers involved in the shootout were injured.
In an affidavit, an Oakland police investigator reported that during an interview at the hospital, Williams “stated that his intention was to start a revolution by traveling to San Francisco and killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.”
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.
Conspiracy theory-fueled extremism has long been a reaction to progressive government in the United States. Half a century ago, historian Richard Hofstadter wrote that right-wing thought had come to be dominated by the belief that Communist agents had infiltrated all levels of American government and society. The right, he explained, had identified a “sustained conspiracy, running over more than a generation, and reaching its climax in Roosevelt’s New Deal, to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism or communism.”
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.”
After the 2008 election, Fox News personalities filled the airwaves with increasingly violent rhetoric and apocalyptic language. On his Fox News show, Beck talked about “put[ting] poison” in Pelosi’s wine.
Observers of this most recent act were mystified by one of Byron Williams’ reported targets: the Tides Foundation, a low-profile charitable organization known for funding environmentalists, community groups, and other organizations.
Beck, it turned out, had attacked Tides 29 times on his Fox News show in the year-and-a-half leading up to the shooting.
Now, in exclusive interviews and written correspondence, Williams speaks for himself. Asking me to be his “media advocate” he repeatedly instruced me to watch specific broadcasts of Beck’s show for information on the conspiracy theory that drove him over the edge: an intricate plot involving Barack Obama, philanthropist George Soros, a Brazilian oil company, and the BP disaster.
Williams also points to other media figures — right-wing propagandist David Horowitz, and Internet conspiracist and repeated Fox News guest Alex Jones — as key sources of information to inspire his “revolution.”
In a separate exchange with Examiner.com’s Ed Walsh, Williams sought to defend Beck from “Obama and the liberals,” whom he said are afraid of Beck “because he often exposes things that are simply forbidden in news.” Williams said that Beck advocates non-violence and that he had already researched the conspiracy theories that informed his alleged plot — before seeing them “confirm[ed]” on Beck’s show.
Similarly, Williams tells Media Matters that “Beck would never say anything about a conspiracy, would never advocate violence. He’ll never do anything… of this nature. But he’ll give you every ounce of evidence that you could possibly need.”
From the Santa Rita Jail, Williams opens up about the websites he frequented, the broadcasts he listened to, and the “evidence” of “sabotage” he “uncovered” that eventually led him to target Tides.
He asks that I help “make people realize that corrupt killers are in power, and want re-election!” Williams wants to make sure that the ideas that inspired him aren’t “buried” from the public.
“I collect information on corruption,” Williams says, “I’ve been at it for some time.”
Beck, in particular, he says, is “like a schoolteacher on TV.”