On July 18 2010, on a stretch of I-580 freeway in Oakland California, Byron Williams, a 45-year-old ex-felon and Tea Party supporter, engaged in a prolonged gun battle with law enforcement officers. A police affidavit says that Williams was armed and wearing body armor and said he was on his way to San Francisco to “start a revolution” by killing staff at progressive organizations, including the Tides Foundation, a group frequently targeted by Glenn Beck. Armed with three firearms and a small arsenal of ammunition, including armor-piercing rounds for his .308-caliber rifle, his body armor allowed Williams to continue firing at police for 12 long minutes before surrendering, despite being hit numerous times.
Both the weapons and the truck he drove belonged to his mother. She said Williams was was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.”
So we have a 45 year-old convicted felon sympathetic to the Tea Party who is unemployed and living with his mother, steals her guns and truck in order to go on a murderous rampage against left-wing groups. Did you read that Glenn Beck? Let’s see how your inflammatory rhetoric has consequences.
In a series of interviews and correspondence, Williams explained how much he relied on right-wing media – and in particular Fox News host Glenn Beck – for news. Beck, who has declared himself a “progressive hunter,” put Tides at the center of an alleged left-wing conspiracy, and the conspiracy theories featured on Beck’s chalkboard were the basis for Byron Williams’ dark revenge fantasies.
Williams, who said Beck was “like a schoolteacher on TV,” explained:
“I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn’t for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind. I said, well, nobody does this.”
What Williams learned from Beck and the right-wing media inspired him to depart on a journey that could have had deadly consequences. Williams’ rhetoric and his worldview are shaped by, and echo, the conspiracy theories and falsehoods of the hard-right TV and radio talkers he cites as his inspiration. In his interview, Williams says he was pushed over the edge by anger over a conspiracy involving George Soros, Obama, a Brazilian oil company, and the BP oil spill — a conspiracy theory loudly touted by Beck throughout 2010.
Byron Williams took up arms because he thinks an evil cabal of left-wing extremists is trying to destroy the country and engaging in “hideous corruption.” He believes that lie because that’s the “very good information” he heard, constantly, from the sources he trusts — sources like David Horowitz, Michael Savage, Alex Jones and Glenn Beck.
Williams has said:
“Beck is gonna deny everything about violent approach and deny everything about conspiracies, but he’ll give you every reason to believe it. He’s protecting himself, and you can’t blame him for that. So, I understand what he’s doing.”
And as if on cue, Glenn Beck did just that when he issued his “pledge against violence” immediately after the Tucson tragedy. Not a pledge against violence at all, it is in reality a series of paranoid, Tea Party dog whistles to his audience. In reality Beck’s pledge is a call to reject not violence but the “the vast progressive conspiracy that is plotting even now to fundamentally change America.” Half of the items in his pledge aren’t about violence at all – they’re about people who want to “bring down” or “tear down” our “system,” and replace it with something else. It is another attack on those on the Left that Beck has made a fortune attacking, and a renewal of his calls for action from the most paranoid of the 2nd Amendment supporting, gun-toting crowd that one sees in Arizona and spawned Jared Loughner.
In the end, three CHP vehicles had their windows shot out, but no officers were shot. This time.