Government, Violence, and Bill Clinton

Monday, April 19th, 2010

In today’s New York Times, Bill Clinton once again tries to tie the Oklahoma City bombing to those of us who hold “the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.”

Of course he sort of proves those of us who do believe such things right by continually using April 19 to tie us to a deranged murderer instead of acknowledging, taking some responsibility for, or expressing any remorse whatsoever for another anniversary we observe today: the Clinton administration’s slaughter of 76 people, including 20 children, at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. Waco gets all of a sentence in Clinton’s op-ed.

Clinton twice invokes America’s founders in the piece: He refers to George Washington’s suppression of the whiskey rebellion, and he explains that the founders “constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear.” I was born on April 19, so I know a bit about today’s history. It’s not just the anniversary of Waco and Oklahoma City, it’s also the anniversary of the battles of Concord and Lexington—the first shots of the American Revolution. That would of course be an occasion of citizens rising up to violently overthrow the government that most Americans—including Clinton—tend to celebrate. And it’s probably worth noting that we threw off the yoke of the crown for violations of human freedom and dignity that were a hell of a lot less severe than what we put up with today.  (Today is also the anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—a reminder sometimes violence against those who have deemed themselves in charge is unequivocally justified.)

I don’t think Clinton is calling for censorship of people who, as he puts it, “demoniz[e] the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.” But I do think he’s trying to marginalize those of us who criticize the government—to shunt us to the fringe. And he’s laying groundwork so that the next time some idiot flies a plane into an IRS building, or some madman opens fire on a couple of cops, he can move the ball a bit more toward pinning the bodies on those of us who dare to criticize the now insurmountable federal deficit, the mass looting of the taxpayers that is the public pension system, or the panoply of drug war, criminal justice, and police militarization abuses you read about on this site—to rattle off just a few examples.

I’ve never really felt the need to distance myself from people like Tim McVeigh or Joseph Stack because I’ve never felt any affinity or kinship with them. But just for the record, let me say that taking up arms against the government is moronic and reprehensible for a host of reasons, not least of which is that there isn’t a chance in hell you’re going to win. Beyond that, atrocious as Waco was, murdering a bunch of federal workers, their children, and bystanders, none of whom had anything whatsoever to do with Waco, wasn’t just morally repugnant, it was an act of insanity and delusion (McVeigh actually thought the bombing could have sparked a revolution). And even if one were depraved enough to find some moral justification in Oklahoma City, think of what it did for McVeigh’s cause: Instead of April 19 being the day we remember and lament the Clinton’s administration’s monumental fuck-up, and possibly reflect on massive power of government to simply eliminate people it deems weird or fringe or threatening, Clinton, armed with moral rectitude provided by McVeigh, now gets to take to the pages of the New York Times to celebrate government, and to denounce and marginalize the people who dare to criticize it.

The really mendacious thing about the crap Clinton spews at about this time every year is that unlike the tortured nexus he tries to build between government critics and Timothy McVeigh, his responsibility for the charred bodies at Waco is pretty damned easy to chart. He gets to gloss over all of that now.

The thing is, Mr. Former President, if I may address you directly, is there are far too may public servants who, as you put it, “do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.” I document them every day on this site. And so despite your admonition, I will continue to criticize them for it. And when, for example, they out and out murder innocent people in the name of a senseless, wasteful, and fundamentally illiberal policy (a policy, incidentally, that you enthusiastically support, despite your admission that you yourself have broken the country’s drug laws), I’ll go ahead and, to borrow your word, demonize them for it.

And you know what? I won’t feel the slightest tinge of guilt about doing so. Nor will I feel the least bit of responsibility for acts of anti-government violence, past or future, even when they’re committed in the name of one or more ideas I might otherwise endorse.

Because fundamentally and categorically, I repudiate the use of force and violence to impose my beliefs, political philosophy, or policy preferences on other people. Until you can say the same thing, Mr. Former President (and we both know you can’t), you can spare me your goddamned lecture.


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131 Responses to “Government, Violence, and Bill Clinton”

  1. #1 |  Elliot | 

    Cynical in CA: (#67)

    “Because fundamentally and categorically, I repudiate the use of force and violence to impose my beliefs, political philosophy, or policy preferences on other people.” — Radley Balko

    “Welcome to anarchism, Radley. It’s about goddamn time.”

    Nice catch. I missed that one.

    Next time I’m in OC to see the in-laws, we’ll have to have work on a secret seditious handshake in case we run into each other.

    Nick: (#88)

    “Non-initiation of force as an absolute is the basis of political liberty, not anarchy. Don’t be confusing the two.”

    “I believe I read the same comment to which you are responding but I don’t see the confusion. I can’t say it any better so I’ll quote Stephan Kinsella. “To be an anarchist only means that you believe that aggression is not justified, and that states necessarily employ aggression”. Am I missing something?”

    Nope.

    Too many people confuse anarchy (or, rather, rule of self) with chaos. Many grownups are actually capable of interacting with each other peacefully and reasonably, without resorting to force. It’s a damned shame that politicians scare people into believing that they need to surrender their self-authority for safety.

  2. #2 |  Mike S | 

    Cultists defending cultists.

  3. #3 |  JOR | 

    Taking up arms against a government is never reprehensible, but usually imprudent. Whether it’s moronic depends on just how much you, as an individual, have to lose.

  4. #4 |  Bill Clinton Reminds America of Oklahoma City, His Record and Terror | DBKP - Death By 1000 Papercuts - DBKP | 

    […] Balko gives Clinton a dose of awesome and most-deserved HELL for his self-serving comparisons. The really mendacious thing about the crap Clinton spews at […]

  5. #5 |  Token Conservative · Daily Briefing 04/20/10 | 

    […] is a response properly chastising Bill Clinton for his outrageous attempts recently to link the Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, and the tea party movement. […]

  6. #6 |  Kyron Huigens | 

    The Crown issued general warrants that gave colonial governments the right to enter any home at its discretion and search the entire home for anything they could deem incriminating after the fact. It also quartered troops in private homes, violating fundamental property rights. In addition to taxation without representation, these were the two most objectionable practices that led to the Revolution.

    No, there is nothing being done by the present Administration that approaches those violations of civil rights.

    The closest we have come lately to the practices of the Crown would be the Bush Administration’s assertion that it had the right to unilaterally set aside laws duly passed according to the procedure prescribed by the US Constitution — that is, by Congress. Please send me a link to your post condemning that.

    And a parallel between our situation and the Warsaw ghetto uprising? Seriously? The Obama Adminstration is a Nazi government? You are freezing and starving, packed in with four other families in a two bedroom apartment, for the sake of convenience come the time they round you all up and send you to a gas chamber? Really? Please let me know where this is happening and I’ll do all I can to rescue you.

  7. #7 |  Grantmeliberty | 

    The four atf agents who entered through the window from the roof, were followed by a concussion grenade tossed though the window by the agent still on the roof, with the curtains billowing out when it detonated. The agents were all part of a guard detail for slick willie during his campaign, perhaps witnessed things best left unreported, and were set to be offed. They realized they had been set up and started firing out at their buddy, who was spraying into the room with his sub gun.
    The israelis had been using CS gas and killing palestinians with it in closed buildings, and fed guidelines said it should be used only in the open to prevent fatalities. It is also highly flammable, and when it burns, the byproduct is CYANIDE which was found in the blood of some of the victims.
    PREMEDITATED MURDER!!!!
    If you listened to Bill Cooper back in the day, he played a copy of the audio of one of the reporters who witnessed the “execution” of McVeigh. No videos were allowed, and she said that she watched them bring him in on a gurney, draped with a sheet, he raised his head and looked at each of the 10 witnesses, they gave him the injection, and she watched him as his chest continued to rise and fall with his breathing, uninterrupted as they wheeled him away. IMHO he was an agent, and is living among us or on some tropical isle at this time. The truck bomb was the second of two explosions, the first was of charges set within and on the second floor of the building. The rubble from the building was taken away and secured with armed guards preventing forensic investigators from sampling any of the parts. I saw a copy of the seismographic from the U of O Norman, within two weeks of the bombing, and there were two distinct spikes some seconds apart.

  8. #8 |  Radley Balko | 

    Kyron Huigens:

    You get a D in reading comprehension.

  9. #9 |  Dolf Fenster | 

    And it’s probably worth noting that we threw off the yoke of the crown for violations of human freedom and dignity that were a hell of a lot less severe than what we put up with today.

    Radley, I think Kyron is reading you just fine. Sure, life in Ameica today can in no way rival the liberatarian paradise of 1880’s, but you can’t be serious that life in a British colony, with millions in bondage and millions more deprived of any sufferage whatsoever, is in any way comparable to today. I love libertarianism, but it’s hard not to laugh at libertarians.

  10. #10 |  Wish I’da Said That « Oh, My! | 

    […] Read the whole thing. […]

  11. #11 |  slarrow | 

    What Clinton is trying to do is the same thing that other prominent (mostly Democrat of late, but not necessarily exclusive) politicians try to do. Under the guise of calls for civility and restraint, they seek to muzzle the opposition. In truth, they don’t want a civil discussion; they want a tame electorate.

    Well, pardon me if I decline to be tame.

  12. #12 |  mtraven | 

    #93: McVeigh killed 168 people. Bill Ayers, zero. That’s another “major difference”. Yet you people who are dubious about the power of the state believe he deserves to be executed. Who do you think is going to do the executing?

  13. #13 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #79 | Seerak —

    “Because fundamentally and categorically, I repudiate the use of force and violence to impose my beliefs, political philosophy, or policy preferences on other people.” — Radley Balko

    “Welcome to anarchism, Radley. It’s about goddamn time.” — Cynical in CA

    “Non-initiation of force as an absolute is the basis of political liberty, not anarchy. Don’t be confusing the two.”

    Non-initiation of force IS anarchy. If there is an “arch,” there is force. Get it?

    “Anarchism is to politics what a vacuum is to fluid dynamics.”

    Anarchism is total political equality at the individual level, nothing more, nothing less.

  14. #14 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #88 | Nick —

    “Non-initiation of force as an absolute is the basis of political liberty, not anarchy. Don’t be confusing the two.” — Seerak

    “I believe I read the same comment to which you are responding but I don’t see the confusion. I can’t say it any better so I’ll quote Stephan Kinsella. “To be an anarchist only means that you believe that aggression is not justified, and that states necessarily employ aggression”. Am I missing something?”

    What Seerak does is the common slur of conflating anarchy with chaos. To a statist, the two terms are interchangeable — actually, it’s worse than that. Given the choice, a statist will ALWAYS use the word “anarchy” as a substitute for “chaos.” The two words are actuall antonyms.

    First rule of political subjugation is to control the language.

  15. #15 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #101 | Elliot — “Nice catch. I missed that one.”

    Thanks Elliott, in fairness, it took me several hours to realize what I had read. It’s been a long time since I read such a concise testament of anarchism, and I was not expecting it from that source. Since there has been no repudiation or qualification by Radley, I am left only to welcome him with open arms as a public anarchist. It is an honor to have such a high profile member of the libertarian community make such a public statement — maybe as a result more people will awaken to political equality and eschew the use of force in all aspects of their lives.

    Next time I’m in OC to see the in-laws, we’ll have to have work on a secret seditious handshake in case we run into each other.

  16. #16 |  Radley Balko | 

    Sure, life in Ameica today can in no way rival the liberatarian paradise of 1880’s, but you can’t be serious that life in a British colony, with millions in bondage and millions more deprived of any sufferage whatsoever, is in any way comparable to today.

    I agree with you. And that isn’t what I wrote. I wrote that the stated reasons for the Declaration of Independence were for violations of human liberty that were far less egregious than what the government gets away with today.

  17. #17 |  Invisible Finger | 

    millions more deprived of any sufferage whatsoever

    This is always a canard. (And it’s suffrage, by the way.) Even liberal polls showed that the majority of Americans were against Obamacare and it passed anyway. Like Bush’s invasion of Iraq against the majority will of the citizenry, it’s clear that the majority of Americans feel that they aren’t really getting represented.

    Regardless of whether the present suffrage is merely symbolic or not, the American Revolution was essentially a tax revolt for lack of representation. As the citizens are taxed and an increasing rate while their representation in government remains unchanged, it’s silly to say that today is so much better than before simply because the majority of colonists weren’t subject to direct taxes of any kind in the first place (until the Stamp Act).

    Add in the fact that the Stamp Act was essentially the revenue source for the crown’s own military jobs program, and compare that to the ever-growing public payrolls that are the main cause of the increased taxation. The result is that today is not very much different from yesteryear at all.

  18. #18 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Re #116: “It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now.”–Ian Anderson

  19. #19 |  For real, yo « | 

    […] 20, 2010 · Leave a Comment McVeigh: still a nutcase: I’ve never really felt the need to distance myself from people like Tim McVeigh or Joseph Stack […]

  20. #20 |  nitpicker | 

    Please note: ATF agents showed up to the Branch Davidian compound to execute legally obtained search warrants–where the crazy cult leader was continually raping young girls–and were killed. Do you really think Bill Clinton was responsible for that event, which occurred roughly a month after he took office?

    I am continually shocked by those who seem to defend David Koresh, whose madness led to the tragedy. After all, if it weren’t for the fuel oil spread about the compound, there would have been no fire after all. Blaming Clinton and defending Koresh is tantamount to saying that McVeigh had a valid point to make.

  21. #21 |  phlinn | 

    Nitpicker, they came heavily armed. Who started the firefight that lead to the 10 deaths that February? Was it an accidental discharge, or was someone else trying to trigger a firefight? Assuming you are correct about the fuel, it’s also true that if they hadn’t raided the facility, there would have been no fire.

    I’m not trying to say David Koresh was a good person… but the actions of the ATF and FBI were extremely likely to cause violence. They were not blameless.

  22. #22 |  Elliot | 

    nitpicker: (#120) “ATF agents showed up to the Branch Davidian compound to execute legally obtained search warrants…”

    They lied to a judge about a meth lab in order to get military support (War on Drugs loophole). That’s illegal.

    nitpicker: (#120) “…the crazy cult leader was continually raping young girls…”

    The BATF has no business investigating sexual assault crimes. That’s the purview of Child Protective Services and the local police or sheriff.

    Anyone who wanted to take Koresh into custody had the option to arrest Koresh when he went to town and avoid the bloody situation entirely. Instead, they chose to engage in a paramilitary operation to show off their prowess. This was a way to rescue their tarnished image, in the hope of maintaining funding to their troubled bureau.

    nitpicker: (#120) “Do you really think Bill Clinton was responsible for that event, which occurred roughly a month after he took office?”

    No, and I don’t think anyone else blames Clinton for the BATF debacle. Bush 41 failed to rein in that rogue outfit.

    Clinton, Reno, and the FBI had months to handle the crisis. They chose to use psychological warfare. If, as you assert, these people were crazy, was that a wise strategy–to do your level best to make them even more unstable?

    nitpicker: (#120) “I am continually shocked by those who seem to defend David Koresh …”

    Perhaps you should pay closer attention to what people actually write. Law enforcement officers (LEOs) are supposed to follow strict rules of due process, even if the suspected offenders are dangerous lunatics. Otherwise, if the LEOs are not held to account for breaking the rules in the case of religious lunatic pedophiles with automatic weapons, why should they be held to account if they treat you likewise and cover it up with disinformation about how you skin babies alive, threaten to blow up buildings, and cut the tags off your mattresses?

    nitpicker: (#120) “After all, if it weren’t for the fuel oil spread about the compound, there would have been no fire after all.”

    You may accept that version as fact, but when I see military tanks pumping highly volatile gas into the home of civilians, creating openings in the walls which provided highly efficient ventilation on a very windy day, I have a hard time discounting the possibility that such foolish (or intentionally evil) action by the FBI was the cause of the conflagration.

    Besides, if your goal is to save the women and children, why not just wait them out? Why force the situation to become violent again, when it didn’t need to be?

    Rescuers don’t assault civilian homes with military tanks. They calm down the inhabitants and try to talk them out peacefully.

    nitpicker: (#120) “Blaming Clinton and defending Koresh is tantamount to saying that McVeigh had a valid point to make.”

    McVeigh’s actions were monstrously unethical because, for one reason, he killed innocents (including children) who had nothing to do with Waco.

    But just because that madman carried out his terrible deed two years after the FBI did their terrible deeds doesn’t negate the culpability of those who committed the Waco massacre. Nor does Koresh’s guilt make it OK for them to kill women and children.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  23. #23 |  Elliot | 

    Billy Beck points out that Bill Clinton paraphrased him. I recognized his line when I first read that part of the speech.

  24. #24 |  beejeez | 

    Look, we get it that the feds screwed up the Waco raid seven ways to Sunday. Tragically. But don’t sign me up for this crap that it was part of Bill Clinton’s master plan to destroy anti-government sentiment by deliberately killing not only Koresh, but the innocent kids inside his compound. You think that was his way of trying to drum up votes in the South? Or that we wouldn’t be crying murder if Castro didn’t see to it pronto that an American boy was returned to his father? Waco was a simple case of FUBAR, and Clinton-Reno deserve blame for not being in control of the situation, but that’s where the fault ends. I suspect they would have been more likely to handle it competently after a couple years on the job, with their trusted personnel in place. But as part of a dark conspiracy against their critics? Give me a break.

  25. #25 |  Billy Beck | 

    Dave G @ #36: Partin’s case is superficially plausible. I was very intrigued with it for a long time. Here is a bet: I am the only person in this forum with a complete set of as-built drawings of the Alfred P. Murrah building. I will only state my conclusion, after a lot of work on the matter, that there was no way that demolition explosives were set in that building (there simply wasn’t anywhere to put them without detection), and that the damage that building suffered was a chaotic freak of blast dynamics resulting from the ANFO bomb.

    I just can’t see it any other way, and you should know that I was extremistly suspicious of that event.

  26. #26 |  Elliot | 

    beejeez : (#124)
    “But don’t sign me up for this crap that it was part of Bill Clinton’s master plan to destroy anti-government sentiment by deliberately killing not only Koresh, but the innocent kids inside his compound.”

    Strawman. Who here claimed that Bill Clinton approved of or even knew of the full intent of the FBI that day? My memory may be off and I’d have to scour a lot of material from years ago, but most accounts I read suggested that even Janet Reno was kept in the dark about some aspects. For example, she gave the OK for gas to be injected in limited amounts at a time, only to be increased if there was “resistance”. The FBI claimed that the Davidians shot at the tanks, at which point they pumped in the remainder of that day’s supply in a few minutes. That seems like the FBI took advantage of her permission to escalate not being very specific and ran with it, knowing that there was no rational reason to put that amount of gas in the Davidian’s home if your intent was to rescue the women and children.

    The FBI, by their actions, demonstrated clearly that their intention was not to rescue anyone, but to massacre the people who dared to murder their fellow federal agents. They wanted to send a message to all Americans that killing a federal agent (even in self-defense when they start shooting first while serving a warrant obtained via perjury) will be punished by utter destruction.

    “Waco was a simple case of FUBAR…”

    Dozens murdered is “FUBAR”? Whoops! We just ran over a bunker full of women and children with a tank. Gosh, we screwed up! You’re awful goddamned forgiving of pre-meditated murder by the FBI Hostage Roasting Team.

    “Clinton-Reno deserve blame for not being in control of the situation, but that’s where the fault ends.”

    So if they lacked control and realized that the people they foolishly trusted to resolve the situation were murderous bastards, why is it that they didn’t prosecute, fire, or punish them after the massacre? There was no accountability. None. It was utterly evil of Clinton and Reno to cover up the FBI’s culpability, just like when police chiefs and DAs protect felonious cops from being charged (the thin blue line).

    Had Clinton and Reno handled the aftermath properly, they would have done a thorough, independent investigation (not the bullshit Congressional whitewash, since those politicians were afraid of the political consequences), prosecuted FBI and BATF agents, and revamped both bureaus entirely (like not allowing them to use military equipment against civilians, clamping down on bad warrants). They would have demonstrated to Americans that there was accountability. The many people who were justifiably angry and justifiably fearful of the federal government might have felt a bit differently. (Not that any of this absolves McVeigh. But perhaps he might not have carried out his mass murder.)

    “I suspect they would have been more likely to handle it competently after a couple years on the job, with their trusted personnel in place.”

    When you’re the “leader of the free world”, why in the bloody hell should you be given half a term (between a fourth and a half of your entire time in office) to organize your people enough that they’re not running around murdering dozens of people?

  27. #27 |  Elliot | 

    Correction: “The FBI, by their actions, demonstrated clearly that their intention was not to rescue anyone, but to massacre the people who dared to murder shoot at their fellow federal agents.”

    Whether the BATF agents were killed by bullets fired by Davidians, or by each other (shooting blindly through walls or the roof), I don’t know. But if the Davidians did shoot and kill them, it quite possibly was in self-defense.

    Read this website for particular individuals who had the misfortune of being jarred out of their sleep by intruders who happened to be police (which they didn’t find out until they had shot at them, thinking they were criminals).

  28. #28 |  supercat | 

    //and that the damage that building suffered was a chaotic freak of blast dynamics resulting from the ANFO bomb.//

    Wasn’t there an alcove underneath much of the collapsed section? IIRC the only pillar that failed that wasn’t under or on the edge of it was quite close to the bomb blast.

  29. #29 |  CF Oxtrot | 

    Rick H above cites Glenn Greenwald as “anti-authoritarian left.”

    That’s rich, Rick. Apparently you haven’t read Glenn Greenwald very closely. In the middle of the last decade, he argued with me at length about the need for the Fed Govt to be strong against “terrorism,” which Greenwald broadly painted as anyone who disagreed with Greenwald’s view of what is proper government — very much like WJB Clinton did in the piece Balko is criticizing here.

    Greenwald’s reputation (in your mind, I mean) is one thing; his positions that he has argued in exchanges with me is quite another.

    Greenwald is very authoritarian when it comes to defending Greenwald’s view of proper government. His latest drift toward tepidly criticizing the Democrats is not indicative of the arguments he’s made for over 5 years. If you have evidence that Greenwald has changed his bizarre, childish views on the Fed Govt, I’d suggest you use that evidence, instead of simply citing him by name and his pathetic sycophantic columns at Salon — a journal of foppish dandyism, not legal affairs or governmental studies.

    __________________

    To answer the question of what is anti-authoritarian left, I would point toward Arthur Silber, Kevin Carson, or Sheldon Richman as name-dropping examples. Glenn Greenwald is still trying to shake off his fond romanticism for the Democratic party, and his long-standing despising perspective toward all things Republican. He calls himself a leftist-libertarian, but his arguments made to me are quite the opposite.

    Sheesh.

  30. #30 |  A blow for liberty | Pittsburgh Alpha to Omega | 

    […] Balko (Feliz belated cumpleaños!) used a few more words than I did to blast Clinton, made some good ancillary points, and pointed out that the […]

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