Cultivating hate

April 26, 1995|By Sandy Grady

G. GORDON LIDDY, hard-case Watergate burglar, was explaining last year on his WJFK-AM radio show how someone could shoot an U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent.

"You don't aim at that ATF patch because he's got a bullet-proof vest underneath," said Mr. Liddy. "You need a big target."

"A big target?" asked the caller.

"Head shot," said Mr. Liddy, according to tapes. "Head shot."

Inflammatory, provocative, dangerous?

You bet.

Did the venomous blather of right-wing, talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North and Mr. Liddy light the fuse of the bomb that shook Oklahoma City and America?

Nope, too far-fetched.

What about Newt Gingrich's anti-government diatribes? Or Bob Dornan's anti-Bill Clinton slurs? Or conservatives who rail against Big Brother taking away people's guns?

Did politicians' overheated rhetoric inspire the bombers to blow apart the Oklahoma City federal building, murdering perhaps 200 adults and children?

Again, far-fetched.

In the emotional manhunt for villains after the Oklahoma City catastrophe, it's an easy leap: Right-wing militia nuts behind the bombing must be connected to far-right politicians and radio motormouths.

But tempting as it is to this non-admirer, I'd overreach by directly tagging the Oklahoma City disaster on Messrs. Limbaugh's or Gingrich's prattle.

The wacko suspects lived in an incestuous world of faxes, pamphlets and videos. Michigan Militia members believe the United Nations is setting up bases, helicopters and detention camps to conquer the United States.

"If government keeps alienating people, war is inevitable," said militia commander Norman Olson on CBS' "60 Minutes." "We're not going to be marched into pits and machine-gunned."

Even Mr. Gingrich's jeremiads don't advocate stock-piling AK-47's and fertilizer bombs.

Doesn't mean everybody with a public voice -- especially right-wing blowhards -- gets off the hook.

Time to cool the hate talk in politics and the media.

In the couple of years before the Oklahoma explosion rocked America, the decibels of hatred reached a nasty peak for this century. Bill Clinton was dead on target Monday in his furious outburst against hate peddlers.

"We hear so many loud and angry voices in America whose sole goal is to keep some people paranoid and leave the rest of us torn up and upset with each other," said Mr. Clinton.

Angry as president-watchers have ever seen him, Mr. Clinton gritted his words: "I never want to look into the faces of another set of family members like I saw yesterday."

Sure, Mr. Clinton, whose behavior in reassuring and mourning after the Oklahoma tragedy was impeccable, can be accused of a bias. No 20th-century president and first lady, possibly excepting Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, have been so pilloried.

But Mr. Clinton's flat-out right. Maybe you can't directly blame political and media hate hypsters for the Oklahoma murders, but they create a climate in which violence blossoms.

It's not merely Mr. Dornan on the House floor calling Mr. Clinton a "serial adulterer and draft dodger." That's mild. Jerry Falwell sells a videotape that tries to tie Mr. Clinton to murder.

There's an Us-vs.-Them virulence. So Mr. Gingrich snarls at Democrats, "They'll do anything to harass us; they'll stop at nothing." Congressfolk shout down each other as "Nazis" and "child haters" and "a whore." Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., called ATF agents "jack-booted American fascists."

No radio host hurts his ratings yahooing at government leaders as jackals. No surprise that Francisco Duran, after hearing a radio guy play a machine-gun burst when he mentioned Washington, pumped 30 slugs into the White House.

Why the hate epidemic? One reason, I suspect, is the cacophony of voices competing on radio-TV outlets. Politicians and hucksters scream to be noticed.

Yes, we've been here before. Anti-war rhetoric during the Vietnam era led to bombings. Don't forget the Dallas hatred before John Kennedy was shot.

Now it's hate for fame and profit. When pols and media celebs screech extremism, it's easy for militias to preach that the bungled Waco, Texas, holocaust must be avenged. A bomb, a van and vengeance.

No, I don't directly blame Messrs. Limbaugh, Liddy and right-wing ranters for Oklahoma City. But the rubble beseeches: Chill the high-pitched hatred.

Sandy Grady is a Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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