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Did Glenn Beck's rhetoric inspire violence?

Glenn Beck's attacks on the Tides Foundation are being linked to a heavily-armed man's attempt to assassinate the progressive organization's employees. Rhetoric has consequences, critics say.

By Staff writer / October 16, 2010

Glenn Beck spreads his message at the Sears Centre, Saturday Sept. 18 in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Critics say Beck's rhetoric inspired violence.

Mark Welsh/The Arlington Heights Daily Herald/AP

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Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who’s honed being provocative – even outrageous at times – to a fine and lucrative art, is the focus of criticism for inciting violence.

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Specifically, his dozens of comments attacking the Tides Foundation are being linked to the attempt by a heavily-armed man to assassinate employees at the San Francisco-based foundation, which funds environmental, human rights, and other progressive projects. The attack in July was thwarted in a shoot-out with police in which two officers were wounded.

Since then, alleged attacker Byron Williams has said in jailhouse interviews that he wanted to “start a revolution.” He says Beck was not the direct cause of his turning violent. But he does say: “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.”

At various times, Beck has referred to Tides as “bullies” and “thugs” whose mission is to “warp your children's brains and make sure they know how evil capitalism is.” More recently, Beck (who describes himself as a “progressive hunter”) has warned the foundation “I’m coming for you.”

This has drawn criticism from various quarters.

'People are turning to guns'

Referring directly to Beck, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence issued a statement this week: “Too many people are turning to guns to remedy their grievances. And they are being fueled by rhetoric from leaders of the extreme gun rights movement.”

Some law enforcement officials agree.

"The Becks of the world are people who are venting their opinions and it is inflammatory, it generates a lot of emotion and generates in some people overreaction that apparently happened in the California case," Rich Roberts of the International Union of Police Associations, which represents some 500 local police unions, told the progressive media watchdog Media Matters for America. "Inflammatory speech has a tendency to trigger those kinds of emotions."

Speaking of the alleged attack on the Tides Foundation by Byron Williams, Rep. Peter King (R) of New York, senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said in an e-mail to Media Matters: “It is important that everyone in public life, whether on the right or on the left, realize that words have consequences.”

Fox News advertisers pressured

Tides itself is calling on advertisers to drop their business with Fox News because of what it charges has been “hate speech leading to violence.”

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