In his New York Times op-ed, Frank Rich warned that the anti-government rage encouraged by right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck won't abate after the election. Rich connected "the Beck template" of "encouraging extremists" to Byron Williams.
Media Matters reported on how Glenn Beck and the right-wing media drove Byron Williams to plot the assassination of the leaders of the ACLU and the Tides Foundation.
From Frank Rich's October 17 New York Times column:
In June 2009, still just six months into the Obama presidency, the Fox News anchor Shepard Smith broke with his own network's party line to lament a rise in "amped up" Americans "taking the extra step and getting the gun out." He viewed the killing of a guard by a neo-Nazi Obama hater at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington as the apotheosis of the "more and more frightening" post-election e-mail surging into Fox.
The moment passed. Glenn Beck, also on Fox, spoke for most on the right when he dismissed the shooter as a "lone gunman nutjob." Those who showed up with assault riflesat presidential health care rallies that summer were similarly minimized as either solitary oddballs or overzealous Second Amendment patriots. Few cared when The Boston Globe reported last fall that the Secret Service was overwhelmed by death threats against the president as well as a rise in racist hate groups and antigovernment fervor. It's no better now. In a cover article last month, Barton Gellman wrote in Time that the magazine's six-month investigation found that "the threat level against the president and other government targets" is at its highest since the antigovernment frenzy that preceded Timothy McVeigh's bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
While Obama-hatred remains a staple of the right, the ebbing of his political clout may have diminished him as a catchall for America's roiling, inchoate rage. The president is no longer the sole personification of evil. For those who see government as Public Enemy No. 1, other targets will do, potentially some as remote from Washington as Oklahoma City.
Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist who has written a new book on Beck, has been tracking the case of Byron Williams, a bank robber on parole who injured two California Highway Patrol officers in a July shootout. Williams was out to start a revolution, his mother said, because "Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items." But instead of picking Congress as his target, Williams was gunning for progressives closer to home, at the Tides Foundation and A.C.L.U. in San Francisco. The Tides Foundation? It's an obscure nonprofit whose agenda includes education and AIDS prevention. But it's not obscure to Beck fans, who heard him single it out for vilification 29 times in the 18 months before Williams grabbed his gun.
As Milbank has written, "it's not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by his fans," but he would nonetheless "do well to stop encouraging extremists." The same could be said of the many politicians who are emulating the Beck template -- especially given the tinderbox state of the nation. Whether it's Sarah Palin instructing her acolytes to "reload" or a congressman yelling "baby killer!" at a colleague on the House floor or Sharron Angle, the Tea Party senatorial candidate from Nevada, proposing that citizens consider "Second Amendment remedies" to "protect themselves against a tyrannical government," we know where this can lead.
Don't expect the extremism and violence in our politics to subside magically after Election Day -- no matter what the results. If Tea Party candidates triumph, they'll be emboldened. If they lose, the anger and bitterness will grow. The only development that can change this equation is a decisive rescue from our prolonged economic crisis. Not for the first time in history -- and not just American history -- fear itself is at the root of a rabid outbreak of populist rage against government, minorities and conspiratorial "elites."