Late Saturday night, the California Highway Patrol stopped 45-year-old Byron Williams as he sped towards San Francisco. Wearing a bullet proof vest and armed with three guns, Williams opened fire on the officers. After a 12-minute firefight, CHP troopers subdued and arrested Williams.
According to the police, Williams had hoped to start a revolution by killing employees of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Tides Foundation. The ACLU is a well-known bogeyman of the right wing, but the Tides Foundation, a progressive non-profit organization founded in 1976 to promote social change, is a less familiar name. Why did Williams target a little-known non-profit in order to incite a revolution? Just ask Fox News...
Of course, the good folks of Fox News don't want violence. Glenn Beck, for example, has admonished his audience, "If you ever hear someone thinking about or talking about turning violent, it is your patriotic duty to stop them. The only way to save our republic is to remain peaceful--forceful but peaceful."
Beck has also denied that his dire prophesies of communist revolution and totalitarian oppression encourage violence. Comparing himself to a flight attendant, he explained:
Blaming TV or radio hosts for the nutjob who killed three Pittsburgh police officers over the weekend is like blaming a flight attendant after a terrorist takes down a plane. In other words: Giving passengers a safety talk to prepare them for a worst-case scenario doesn't mean you are responsible should a terrorist make that worst-case scenario happen. One person is providing important information. The other is a nutjob who would've acted no matter what.
Beck's analogy isn't quite right, however. He hasn't been calmly telling the passengers where to find their life jackets and thanking them for flying with Fox News. He has been hysterically shouting, "THE PILOT IS TRYING TO CRASH THE PLANE! WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!" For example, here is a "safety talk" that Beck delivered to his Fox News passengers a few months after he invoked the flight attendant defense:
I told you yesterday buckle up your seatbelt, America. Find the exit. There's one here, here and here. Find the exit closest to you and prepare for a crash-landing because this plane is coming down because the pilot is intentionally steering it into the trees...They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.
That's some safety talk. A safety talk like that might lead some passengers to do more than just buckle their seat belts. It might even lead some "nutjob" to shout, "Let's roll!" and rush the cockpit.
I'm currently writing a book about right-wing paranoia, Blowing Smoke (formerly How Bill O'Reilly Saved Christmas), to be published in October. For updates, click the I Like button on the book's fan page.