Jailhouse Confession: How the right-wing media and Glenn Beck's chalkboard drove Byron Williams to plot assassination
by John Hamilton
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.
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