Yesterday, on the fifteenth anniversary of the attack on the federal office building in Oklahoma City, former President Bill Clinton had an op-ed in the New York Times headlined: “Violence is Unacceptable in a Democracy.” The article settles any doubts about whether Clinton was one of the most talented demagogues of modern times.
Casting a net of collective guilt over much of the 48 contiguous states, Clinton announced that the 1995 bombing was the fault of people who believed “that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government, and that public servants do not protect our freedoms, but abuse them.” People who distrusted government helped echo ideas which somehow persuaded “deeply alienated and disconnected Americans” to carry out the attack.
In other words, people who harshly criticize the government are guilty of – or at least complicit in – mass murder.
It would be difficult to contrive a storyline to better exonerate all government actions. We still know far too little about the actual facts of the Oklahoma City bombing. We do know that the perpetrators were guilty of a heinous crime and deserved the harshest punishment. But that is a topic for a different day.
Clinton declared that “we do not have the right to resort to violence — or the threat of violence — when we don’t get our way. “
Unless you’re the government.
The four million Americans arrested for marijuana violations during Clinton’s reign were victims of government violence and government threats of violence. The “fact” that Clinton never inhaled did not prevent the drug war from ravaging far more lives during his time in office. The number of people arrested for drug offenses rose by 73% between 1992 and 1997. The Clinton administration bankrolled the militarization of local police, sowing the seeds for a scourge of no-knock raids at wrong addresses and a massive increase in efforts to intimidate average citizens in big cities around the country.
During Clinton’s reign, the IRS seized over 12 million bank accounts, put liens on over 9 million people’s homes and land, directly confiscated more than 100,000 people’s houses, cars, or real property, and imposed over 100 million penalties on people for allegedly not paying sufficient taxes, paying taxes late, etc. The IRS knew that millions of citizens were assessed taxes and penalties that they did not owe. A 1997 audit of the IRS’s Arkansas-Oklahoma district found that a third of the property seizures carried out violated federal law or IRS regulations. Former IRS district chief David Patnoe observed in 1998: “More tax is collected by fear and intimidation than by the law.” The Clinton administration fought tooth and nail against a law Congress passed in 1998 to curtail IRS depredations against innocent Americans.
Clinton’s op-ed mentions, almost as an aside, that the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the final assault at Waco. In 1995, Clinton denounced the Branch Davidians as “murderers” for their response to the 1993 Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms attack on their home. Clinton used that label even though a Texas jury found no such guilt – and even though the BATF apparently shot first and did not have a proper warrant for its no-knock, military-style raid.
Clinton was commander-in-chief when the FBI 54-ton tanks smashed into the Davidians’ home, collapsing 25% of the ramshackle building on top of residents before a fire commenced that left 80 people dead. His administration did almost everything it could to cover up the details of federal action at Waco, spurring the widespread distrust which Clinton later denounced.
The federal raid in April 2000 to seize six year old Elian Gonzalez was Clinton-style non-violence at its best. The late-night surprise attack went as planned – nabbing the boy and leaving shattered doors, a broken bed, roughed-up Cuban-Americans and two NBC cameramen on the ground, writhing in pain from stomach-kicks or rifle-butts to the head. But a photographer caught the image of a souped-up Border Patrol agent pointing his submachine gun toward the terrified boy.
Clinton administration officials rushed to explain why the raid was practically a demonstration of Gandhi’s teachings in action. A few hours after the raid, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder asserted that the boy “was not taken at the point of a gun.” When challenged about the machine-gun photograph, Holder explained: “They were armed agents who went in there who acted very sensitively.” Attorney General Janet Reno stressed that the photo showed that agent’s “finger was not on the trigger.” Two days later, Reno declared, “One of the things that is so very important is that the force was not used. It was a show of force that prevented people from getting hurt.” By Reno’s standard, any bank robbery in which no one gets shot is merely a nonviolent exchange of bags of money. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, responding to a question about the use of excessive force, stressed that the agents “drove up [to the Gonzalez house] in white mini-vans” – as if the vehicle’s color proved they were on a mission of mercy.
Clinton’s Iraq policy relied on systemic violence. The U.S. was the lead country in enforcing and perpetuating the blockade on Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dying. U.S. planes carried out hundreds of bombing runs on Iraq, and volleys of American cruise missiles slammed his country during his reign.
Bill Clinton has often acted like his 78-day bombing assault on Serbia in 1999 was his finest hour. The State Department was referring to the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist group until 1997. After Clinton decided to attack Serbia, the KLA officially became freedom fighters. The fact that both Serbs and ethnic Albanians were up to their elbows in atrocities was simply brushed aside or denied. After surviving a Senate impeachment trial, Clinton was hellbent on starring in an old-time morality play.
Clinton’s bombing campaign killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Serb civilians. From intentionally bombing a television station, Belgrade neighborhoods, power stations, bridges (regardless of the number of people on them at the time), to “accidentally” bombing a bus (killing 47 people), a passenger train, marketplaces, hospitals, apartment buildings, and the Chinese embassy, the rules of engagement for U.S. bombers guaranteed that many innocent people would be killed.
In his anniversary op-ed, Clinton declared that “without the law there is no freedom.” But the law did not stop, or even slow, Clinton from raining death on Belgrade. Clinton brazenly violated the War Powers Act, the 1973 law which required the president to get authorization from Congress for committing U.S. troops to any combat situation that lasted more than 60 days. The House of Representatives refused to endorse Clinton’s warring. But, on Serbia and many other issues, Clinton acted as if his moral mission exempted him from all restraints, legal and otherwise.
Clinton warned that “there is a big difference between criticizing a policy or a politician and demonizing the government that guarantees our freedoms and the public servants who enforce our laws.”
And who is to judge when criticizing turns into demonizing? The politicians themselves? Or perhaps the Department of Homeland Security, with its reports on the perils of “extremists” who believe in the Constitution and civil liberties? And then there is always the FBI, which views practically anyone who thinks Washington is full of crap as a dangerous extremist.
And what of the “public servants” who violate citizens’ rights, unjustifiably shoot or Taser them, fabricate evidence against them, or otherwise make their lives hell? What of the congressmen who vote in favor of laws that authorize torture or suspend habeas corpus? What of Justice Department lawyers who craft briefs proving why the president is a Czar?
Fifteen years after the Oklahoma City bombing, we must also remember the danger from politicians who place government above the law and above the people.