Conspiracy

Byron Williams Talks

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Byron Williams is the fellow who got into a shootout with some cops in July while en route to kill some of the grantmakers at the Tides Foundation. No one died, and Williams now resides behind bars. He's a favorite subject for people who worry that talk radio, the Internet, and Fox News are driving conservatives to violence, because he is the first violent kook since Scott Roeder killed the abortion doctor George Tiller over a year ago for whom you can credibly claim that the criminal chose his target with the right-wing media's rhetoric in mind. (More often, you see strained attempts to link Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or some other host to a shootout at a place the figure never denounced, such as the D.C. Holocaust Museum.) The liberal website Media Matters has just put up a profile of Williams by Pacifica's John Hamilton. It stresses the influence of Glenn Beck, David Horowitz, Alex Jones, and Michael Savage both on Williams' worldview in general and on his specific beef with the Tides Foundation, which Williams believed was part of a grand conspiracy in which the BP oil spill was a deliberate act of sabotage masterminded by George Soros.

You're a loser, baby, so why don't you kill them?

Meanwhile, examiner.com (not to be confused with the conservative Examiner newspapers) has published its own interview with Williams. It presents a rather different scenario, in which the shooter "felt forced to act out in violence because Beck and others in the right wing media were not fighting hard enough against organizations like the left-leaning Tides Foundation." In other words, it stresses the differences between Williams' worldview and Beck's rather than the similarities. The profile, written by Ed Walsh, also stresses that Williams was already interested in the Tides theory before Beck started discussing it. "I already had all that information that he used on one or two of his programs," Williams says. "I already knew all of that stuff. And to me it was more of a confirmation of what I already knew." Besides Beck, Williams' favorite sources of information include a familiar litany of fringe writers and websites, including Jones, David Icke, the Jeremiah Project, and AboveTopSecret.com.

But it's Hamilton, not Walsh, who alludes to what may be the most important information about Williams' background: "an extensive criminal career marked by convictions for assault, property destruction, hit and run, and drunken driving." At the time of the shootout, the would-be killer was on parole for bank robbery. Hamilton quotes Williams' mother: "This economy, the way that it is, if people are going to hire somebody, they probably won't hire an ex-felon. If it was boom times, things would have been different." It's not clear from these stories when Williams was radicalized or how it happened. But it's clear that he was already alienated, violent, and in a situation where he didn't have much to lose.

I think it's fair to criticize Beck and the others for espousing a theory that isn't accurate. But it's Williams who's responsible for the idea that the subjects of the theory should be slain. Beck didn't put that notion in his head—he's very explicit about urging nonviolence—and I'm not even sure you can make the more limited claim that these conspiracy theorists served as the spark that set an already volatile man off. Responsibility belongs where it always belongs: with the criminal. Williams is the one who decided to set out to San Francisco to kill some liberals, the same way he decided years earlier to set out to rob a bank.

Bonus reading: "The Paranoid Center," "On Rhetoric, Violence, and Militias," "The Children of George Metesky," "The Myth of the Menacing Militias," "The Green Gunman." And maybe this golden oldie too.

NEXT: Abolish Drunk Driving Laws

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  1. Oh look another apologia for right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck in reason magazine!

    Sure he never says “go out and kill progressives” but he does describe them in a precious-bodily-fluid-corrupting way, a way that is meant to stop the conversation and regard them as pure evil, akin to [insert historical mass murder], and a genuine existential threat to our way of life. It’s not open dialogue he seems to be promoting. Right-wing demagoguery is not the pinnacle of the idea of free speech, it’s something that should be recognized and countered at every opportunity.

    1. Yes, Tony, it’s sad that Glenn Beck uses the same kind of rhetoric as President Obama:

      “Now that’s not just a threat to Democrats, that’s a threat to our democracy.”

      Which is par for the course for the President. He certainly does use rhetoric constantly that is meant to stop the conversation, paint his opponents as pure evil, and a genuine existential threat to our way of life. He’s even done that about the Supreme Court.

      Of course, to Tony, left-wing demagoguery is to be celebrated as brave truth-telling.

      1. Except that multinational corporations influencing American elections is a real threat, whereas Woodrow Wilson is still an inanimate corpse.

        1. Re: Tony,

          Except that multinational corporations influencing American elections is a real threat[…]

          Just ask George Soros…

          1. Oh look here’s OM, independently-minded free-thinking anarchocapitalist extraordinaire, dropping the Soros card. Where would we be without your incisive and innovative contributions to discourse?

            1. The pot calling the kettle black.

              1. Come up with that metaphor all on your own?

                1. You can lead a horse to water.

                  1. …but you can’t get a horse to use basic human thinking skills. OM is a lost cause because he refuses to think for himself, just like this moron author Jessie Walker…

                    “yeah Beck is full of crap and says everything is tides fault, which has no basis in reality what-so-ever, AND Williams said Beck was his primary influence, AND Beck should fact check his national program on a news network, at least basically, and he doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Beck did anything wrong… It’s a good thing Hitler wasn’t an American conservative.

        2. Then it sounds like you 100% agree with Jesse Walker here: It’s not the demonization that’s the problem, it’s the inaccuracy.

          You don’t really have a problem with in general describing political opponents or ideas “in a precious-bodily-fluid-corrupting way, a way that is meant to stop the conversation and regard them as pure evil, akin to [insert historical mass murder], and a genuine existential threat to our way of life.”

          No, not at all. You just dislike it when you feel that it’s inaccurate, but you think it’s appropriate when it is.

          So stop being so damn self-righteous, you’re just like Beck with different premises, and so is Obama.

          1. Well living in a fact-based world vs. not is not a trivial distinction.

          2. Oh look another apologia for right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck in reason magazine!

            Oh look. Another pointless “Tony” vs. the troll-enablers circle jerk.

          3. It’s the demonization resulting FROM THE INACCURACY. Nobody does anything without a reason, an action causes reaction… I can’t believe you are debating basic cause and effect here…

            “So it’s not WHO PULLED THE TRIGGER, it’s the BULLET that actually killed your wife! Release my client!”

            Hitler is demonized because of what he ACTUALLY DID. Would you feel it to be fair if Jesus received the same demonization? What kind of stupid, half-witted moronic “logic” do you think you are using here? Do you think people just randomly demonize people??

            You are a danger to yourself and your family, you truly are. Read a book, think about something, ANYTHING, please! For the love of GOD!

    2. You never watched Beck’s show, have you?

      1. I’ve tried, honest.

        I genuinely don’t see how anyone watches FOX News for any length of time without being some kind of head case. It’s not healthy to harbor that much anger.

        1. You would know about harboring anger, Tony. It’s all you do, harbor anger and insist upon painting your political enemies as evil.

          1. I only use the word ‘evil’ because, for all that’s called evil in this world, actively working to destroy the planet for the sake of short-term corporate profits is pretty much the worst thing I can think of. It’s not because I think evil exists, it’s just that if anything is evil, Republicans are. I’m kind of being ironic here. I’m actually a pragmatist. Pragmatically, I think it’s best to view Republicans as evil.

            1. Shut up fag.

              No homo.

              1. Carl, is that you, you ignorant buffoon?

                Haven’t you done enough damage to the GOP already?

                1. Tony, I think actively refusing to use logic is ‘evil’. Evil causes suffering, everything else is good.

                  Refusing to think about Black people as people causes suffering, this refusing to think causes evil. Refusing to think about Gay people as people causes suffering. Refusing to think about how this world works like a greenhouse causes suffering, refusing to think about anything ends up causing suffering and is evil, conservatives, which over 2 out of 3 Republicans are, is taught in college to be “the stupid party”, because they, in general, refuse to think about new ideas, and in general, want things to stay the way they are, suffering and all.

                  Even when humans stumble upon a way to stop suffering…the basic definition of progress, something intrinsically “good” in all senses of the word, conservatives demonize it and label science “progressive” and scientists “progressives”… akin to calling honest people “honesters”, like there is something wrong with that… something wrong with doing what is intrinsically right… and that’s evil.

        2. You’re not honest! Fox has nothing to do with it.

          You have your world view and it seems to center on providing ever more resources to an incompetent state and somehow feeling like that’s progress.

          Why do you even read or post here?

          1. Fish, Byron Williams voluntarily submitted, in a tape-recorded interview, that Glen Beck, and in particular, named, specifically Fox news, as being the sole reason he tried to kill everyone at the Tides foundation.

            This is what Byron Williams, the man in question, ACTUALLY SAID was his motivation.

            This is not in question, this is not a world-view, this is a fact-view.

            Please listen to Byron Williams’ own opinion about why he did what he did before you form your own opinion about why he did what he did. It’s much easier.

        3. There are those who would claim that Fox News is a news organization and as such should be afforded protections under the first amendment. But the time for such talk is passed. All of the experts agree that the Fox News conspiracy is a threat to America. Let me be clear: we will not allow this threat to America to continue….

    3. Re: Tony,

      Oh look another apologia for right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck in reason magazine!

      Pointing out an obvious fact is the same as apologetics for you, Tony – it would seem.

      Sure he never says “go out and kill progressives” but he does describe them in a precious-bodily-fluid-corrupting way[…]

      “Pointing out the fact that dogs can bite should be contrued as being for killing dogs on site.”

      Using th very same logic as you are using, Tony.

      Right-wing demagoguery is not the pinnacle of the idea of free speech[…]

      See you at the book-burning rally, Tony… You seem to be so keen.

      1. Book burning, of course, being something that right-wing demagogues sometimes engage in. Also, they have an affinity for the persecution complex. As in accusing critics of wanting to silence them. You wouldn’t know anything about that, though.

        1. Pot, kettle, Tony, once again.

        2. Re: Tony,

          Book burning, of course, being something that right-wing demagogues sometimes engage in.

          There are so many of them to choose from . . . right?

          So far, I have only seen eleutherophobes calling for higher FCC restrictions on talk radio, not the other way around. Liberals are anything BUT palladins for free speech.

          Also, they have an affinity for the persecution complex. As in accusing critics of wanting to silence them.

          Not that the critics don’t want to silence them, mind you… but just pointing it out makes them delusional – in YOUR view.

          You wouldn’t know anything about that, though.

          I don’t dwell in your fantasies, Tony – fortunately.

        3. Didn’t our government via the Pentagon just burn the entire printing run of a spy book? You know, the same Pentagon that is now the military wing of the Democrat dominated Federal government?

          http://www.daytondailynews.com…..rning.html

          1. Ooh. That was weak. The national security apparatus is always paranoid and frequently force changes or outright bans on information that is too sensitive in their view. Such censorship would and has existed regardless of which party is in charge.

        4. Right-wing demagoguery is not the pinnacle of the idea of free speech, it’s something that should be recognized and countered at every opportunity.

          Also, they have an affinity for the persecution complex. As in accusing critics of wanting to silence them.

    4. Don’t bother pretending that you read the article.

      Tony|10.11.10 @ 12:08PM|#

      I thought it was clear that I rarely read the dreck posted on reason. Middle-aged men writing like aggrieved teenagers, too self-important to acknowledge the irony that the noxious crap they spew about free enterprise and individual responsibility is fully underwritten by corporate donors? No thanks.

      1. Reading the Reason articles would 1) take up time and 2) threaten Tony’s Progressive faith.

        1. Tony is to Progressivism what Fred Phelps is to Baptism.

          Satan shoving a barbwire-wrapped pineapple up their ass isn’t going to change their faith.

    5. The left never says “go out and kill Americans”, but they do talk about them in an evil-capitalist-imperialist-planet-raping-oppressors kind of way, a way that is meant to stop the conversation and regard America and American culture as pure evil, an existential threat to all life on the planet, and the cheif oppressor of the Muslim world. Marxist demogaguery is not patriotic dissent or the pinnacle of proletariat resistance, it’s a malicious and vile effort to incite violence in a deliberate effort to foment worldwide revolution.

      1. And for evidence I quote Tony: actively working to destroy the planet for the sake of short-term corporate profits is pretty much the worst thing I can think of.

        America Evil! Capitalism Evil! Kill! Destroy!

    6. “Oh look another apologia for right-wing demagogue Glenn Beck in reason magazine!”

      Have you been to thehuffingtonpost.com lately?

  2. The liberal website Media Matters has just put up a profile of Williams by Pacifica’s John Hamilton.

    That pretty much covers it.

    1. Except that they played much of Williams own tape-recorded confession explicitly explaining how he got the idea to murder people from Beck… except for that, yeah, it’s a liberal smear campaign…

      Williams says Beck was the primary influence for his attempted murder. That’s just a fact. You’re immune to the fact because a liberal pointed it out. That is dangerous bias.

      If you want to debate Beck’s right to make wild false claims on a news network, that might have a point, but don’t debate weather Williams primary influence was Beck or not, Williams SAID it was Beck. Nobody else can go into Williams mind. That case is closed.

  3. Leftists deny personal responsibility for one’s actions everywhere else–why not implicate their enemies while doing it this time?

    1. Wouldn’t that also mean Glenn Beck isn’t personally responsible for his actions or any actions resulting from them?

      1. Re: Jason,

        Wouldn’t that also mean Glenn Beck isn’t personally responsible for his actions or any actions resulting from them?

        Yes, it does. He would not be responsible for any actions committed by someone else, as individuals own their own bodies +*ONLY*+, and not someone else’s.

        1. Completely missed the point.

          Wouldn’t a denial of personal responsibility mean that Glenn Beck isn’t responsible for his own actions or the actions resulting from them?

          IOW, society is responsible for Glenn Beck’s rants and for Byron Williams’ actions.

          1. Who brainwashes the brainwashers?

          2. No… It’s a one-way denial of personal responsibility based on some concept of superiority.

            If I’m in the ruling class AND if I don’t hold the “right” views, I’m responsible for myself. If I’m a member of the “unwashed masses” (a phrase I literally overheard a liberal use in a bookstore a couple days ago), then I am just a pawn, controlled by the manipulators in the media. But only the bad ones… Olbermann isn’t a propagandist – only Beck.

        2. Old Mexican, you are saying a drug company can sell you death pills and tell you they cure cancer, and if your child pops them and dies, the drug company is not responsible for your child’s action, because their action was the result of their own body +*ONLY*+, and not someone else’s.

          If you don’t like that example, make up your own.

          You only *know* what you confirm by direct experiment or by what someone else tells you is true.

          *NOBODY* can confirm everything, so trusted sources are formed and held responsible for inaccuracies. Humanity operates this way out of sheer necessity of living less than forever.

          If your boss tells you to operate a machine, and he booby-traps it and it kills you, *HE* is responsible for your actions, because he *MISLEAD* you into doing something that you believed was *right*, namely, that it would not cause you or someone else harm.

          Take Satan. Is Adam and Eve responsible for their actions, *not* Satan, who mislead them? Is Christianity a farce? Is the Devil OK in your book? He isn’t responsible for anything, because everyone is in charge of their own bodies no mater what?

          Give me a break.

  4. Tony’s concern trolling is hilarious. Here, there’s a tenuous connection between Glenn Beck and some career criminal nutjob who murders someone.

    So, let’s give Glenn Beck a .25 of a dead innocent person. That’s fair. What’s Obama’s count up to…?

    1. Are you accusing the POTUS of murder?

      1. Re: FairNYC,

        Are you accusing the POTUS of murder?

        How about them dead Pakistanis, murdered by Predator-launched missiles, under POTUS orders? That counts as murder, especially since the US is NOT at war with Pakistan – right?

    2. Jersey Patriot… you’re a moron. Did using the word “tenuous” instead of “weak” make you feel smart for a second? Give you enough confidence to spurt out that heap of crap you think is a meaningful comment?

      Williams is not “some career criminal nutjob”.

      He was a law abiding citizen who watched Fox news. *I* used to watch Fox news, till Fox “news” openly admitted they do not fact-check over 66% of their programming, calling it “opinion” and not “news”… on “fox news”. You turn on the “news”, which they tout is “fair and balanced”, and you get what they openly admit is only “opinion”.

      Williams DIDN’T EVEN MURDER ANYONE… he was on his way to do it…

      You don’t check up on anything you believe do you? Perhaps Obama wasn’t born in America? Maybe all blacks like Chicken? Maybe your significant other and children actually look up to you? Maybe your boss thinks you’re a hard worker? Maybe your parents *didn’t* think you were a burden?

  5. Glenn Beck is a half meeting drunk this close to his next drink channeling Edgar Cayce of late, ie, he has spirtual wounds, Cayce had psychic burn-out, same nuthouse, different patient or vice versa.

    And you all think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    Pathetic, you are enabling a recovering alcoholic as he gets closer to his next slip.

    1. And you all think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

      Drink?

  6. this moron said he understood what beck was doing, going to the edge then backing off. well, if he understood, he wouldn’t have gone through with what he did in the first place. what a dope!

    1. He said he understood that Beck was inciting violence, but wanted to protect himself, never directly inciting it (obviously Beck would be forced off the air the day he incited violence).

      Williams is probably wrong about Beck’s actual intentions, but what he was saying is that he believed Beck wanted to cause a revolution (which Beck does claim all the time), and that Beck wanted someone to take down the Tides foundation (which Beck said he would personally do himself, and that everyone should try), and that, Williams believes, Beck wanted someone to do this violently.

      Beck did incite a lot of anger based on wildly false accusations.

      I believe it’s comparable to telling a parent that someone raped your child, then the parent attempting to murder that someone.

      Beck is nuts, his theory has major, major holes in it and it’s obviously false, and it obviously would make any American mad if it were true.

      People are debating, therefore, if someone on a News channel can make false claims that incite anger and hate, and not be held accountable when that anger and hate leads to pointless violence.

      The answer, I think, is that Beck is responsible, and if not before knowing what he was inciting, certainly after seeing proof of what he is inciting. He should fact-check his accusations or be thrown off the air, maybe he should go to the SciFi channel or something, but certainly no news network should allow someone to spew this kind of false bullshit that causes viewers to attempt to murder the demonized subjects.

      1. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts regarding what you perceive as “wildly false accusations” – care to elaborate?

  7. I’m not very smart, I admit this, but you right-wingers sound very anti-American. Also you come off as dumb and angry, a very dangerous combo. Okay, have a great day!

  8. I wonder why reason only cites two examples of rightwing, Fox “News” loving nutjobs. Doesn’t Jim Adkisson, the Knoxville Unitarian murderer count? What about Richard Poplawski, a Fox “News” fueled, racist, raging paranoiac who posted videos of Glenn Beck talking about ridiculous FEMA death camp conspiracy theories before he went on to kill some police officers in Pittsburgh.

    We have about two of these kinds of shootings a year. Maybe more that I am missing. I think most people would think that indicates Fox “News” personalities are not acting responsibly with their platform. I am not proposing they be silent, but they are definitely worthy of most of the criticism leveled at them.

    1. “We have about two of these kinds of shootings a year. Maybe more that I am missing. I think most people would think that indicates Fox “News” personalities are not acting responsibly with their platform. I am not proposing they be silent, but they are definitely worthy of most of the criticism leveled at them.”

      It’s true! There are no left-leaning lunatics out there who have killed anyone, ever, for political reasons.

      You, sir, are an idiot!

  9. “he’s very explicit about urging nonviolence”

    Except when he’s very explicit otherwise. And that you would even consider defending Beck says much about you.

    1. “‘he’s very explicit about urging nonviolence’

      Except when he’s very explicit otherwise”

      Could you give us just one example of Glenn Beck’s explicit urging of violence? Just one?

      How about an implicit urging?

      How about even the slightest inkling of a notion of using violence?

      I’ll wait here.

  10. While I appreciate the balanced view this article attempts to make, I think its conclusion is too simplistic. I think it ignores other relevant factors and I can’t help but wonder if in the end it is still somewhat biased.

    “I think it’s fair to criticize Beck and the others for espousing a theory that isn’t accurate. But it’s Williams who’s responsible for the idea that the subjects of the theory should be slain. Beck didn’t put that notion in his head — he’s very explicit about urging nonviolence…”

    I think that comment misses the bigger picture. When it comes to Beck and others like him the problem is not just one of accuracy. There are extremists and disturbed individuals on the left as well with crazy fears and crazy ideas. But mainstream liberal media has not been amplifying and legitimizing those fringe ideas. They have not been giving those ideas any serious weight. Increasingly, mainstream conservative media has been doing just that. It has been pandering to those crazy fears and ideas.

    Beck did not intentionally put that idea in Williams head. Yes, Williams says that he already believed that stuff. But by standing up there and doing what he does, Beck amplified and CONFIRMED those ideas. Williams even says “And to me it was more of a confirmation of what I already knew.”

    But it’s not just the info that’s being confirmed. It’s also the fear and alarm that Williams associates with that info. By confirming and legitimizing those fears, Beck contributes to a heightened state of paranoia among those like Williams.

    Yes Williams had a prior history of violence. Yes he was already mentally/emotionally disturbed. But that’s the point. This kind of rhetoric is very unlikely to incite the rational and stable to violence. Yes Williams was crazy. But that doesn’t negate the possible or potential influence this kind of rhetoric has for inciting those like Williams into violence. Even if Beck briefly urges viewers to nonviolence, the rest of his rhetoric often conveys a subliminal message of urgency or threat, that something should be done now. I’m pretty sure in one of those interviews Williams even says something to the effect that he knew that Beck and Fox could not do anything, could not go beyond the law, and he felt very frustrated about that. I think for someone like Williams when Beck says not to do anything violent they hear a secret message of “I can’t do anything about this but YOU can!”

    And yes Beck is not responsible for that interpretation. But for the most part I believe Beck and others like him know what they are doing. They know the kind of audience they are pandering to. They know that most of what they say is not accurate. I just think in the end they, and all rational and stable people on both sides, need to start recognizing the potential effect this kind of rhtetoric might have on disturbed individuals like Williams and take responsiblity for it. It seems to me there is pretty strong evidence of this influence, especially in this particular case. Certainly, not all such crimes are influenced by such rhetoric. But if there is even a chance that this is the case, if there is even a chance that one or two or three of them are, don’t we owe it to the potential future vicitms of such crimes to consider it? Imagine the consequences if Williams had succeeded. Don’t we owe it to his potential victims to not just blithely dismiss this possiblity by simply pointing at people like Williams and saying “oh they’re just crazy.” I think this is too easy. I think it ignores too many other factors.

    When I was a senior in high school they often had professional wrestling events at the local college coliseum. Hulk Hogan, Rick Flair, Rock N Roll Express. All those guys. I used to attend those events. Not because I thought they were real. I absolutely knew they were fake. I went for the chance to socialize with friends and because I had a certain level of amused appreciation for this form of entertainment. But I also went because the people who believed it was actually real could also be entertaining. They could be really vocal, boisterous, sometimes even a little angry. But for the most part even those who believed it was real could maintain a certain emotional distance. They recognized that this was just a show, just a form of entertainment, even if they believed the animosity and fighting between the wrestlers was real. But sometimes there were a few that could not maintain that distance. That would become so enraged, that would be brought to tears by the anger and frustration they were feeling.

    But for a show like Beck’s the arena isn’t just an enclosed building. It’s the entire nation. And for a show like Beck’s the focus isn’t a couple of wrestlers in the center ring, removed from the audience. For Beck’s show the audience is part of the focus, they are part of the conflict, which makes it a lot harder to maintain a distance from that conflict. The other part of that focus, the other side of that conflict, are those that Beck deems the enemy and, if Beck is to be believed, they are a threat to his audience. They are out to get his audience, to destroy all they hold dear. And those that Beck deems the enemy are not contestants in a ring, briefly assuming personas for the few minutes they pretend to fight. They are real people with real everyday lives, with real families and real concerns. They are not just names scrawled on a chalkboard. They are fellow citizens and neighbors and people like those you encounter in your everyday interactions. People like those Williams intended to murder.

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