The outrage over the remarks by syndicated radio talkshow host G. Gordon Liddy regarding the best way to kill BATF agents ("head shots" and the rest) overlooks an important point of the timing of those remarks--in the late summer and fall of 1994. In an election year where Republicans smelled political blood in the water, it was vital to encourage a massive voter turnout for their side. Tapping in to rising voter anger with government would be a key to victory, and few things made some in the public angrier than the debacle at Waco.
Liddy places the blame for Waco on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. His personal outrage and the need to pump conservative voters may have led to the outbursts of last August and September. Republican heavyweights were no stranger to Liddy's show during this period (or since). Did any of the Republican campaigners for "law and order" hear any of Liddy's remarks? Did they care?
In a crucial Senate race watched by the entire nation, Oliver North faced off against Sen. Chuck Robb in Virginia, trying to paint Robb as a "liberal extremist." North, a long-time Liddy friend, appeared by phone on Liddy's September 15, 1994 show. Liddy, speaking of the anticipated North win, said, "Remember, the snake isn't dead until you've got the head cut off."
In the hour just before North's appearance, Liddy made more of his infamous remarks about the BATF. It's not known if North was listening to Liddy's show before he came on, but if he did, he could have heard the following advice: "If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms insists upon a firefight, give them a firefight. Just remember, they're wearing flak jackets and you're better off shooting for the head."
Later, after North signed off, Liddy had this exchange with a caller:
Liddy: When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms thugs come to kill your wife and children, to try to disarm you and they open fire on you. When they come at the point of a gun, force and violence, when you're going to defend yourself, use that Gerand [M-1 rifle]. That thing is 30-06, and it'll take 'em right out.
Caller: And yes, aim for the head.
If Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich or Oliver North missed the September 15 show, the September 6 show would have helped them understand this Republican supporter's character.
Liddy: Arm yourself. Get instructed in how to shoot straight.
Caller: I've got weapons.
Liddy: Absolutely. And don't give 'em up, and don't register either.
Caller: No way. And I'm aiming between the eyes.
Liddy: There you go. That way their flak jackets won't protect them.
For the listeners to Liddy's 250 stations, appeals for the election of Republican candidates were sandwiched between frequent depictions of the Clinton administration as an evil that needed to be resisted with deadly force. That may explain why Liddy was invited to be the guest of honor at the Republican Party's "Salute to Talk Radio."
In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Liddy was disinvited to the dinner by Sen. Alphonse D'Amato (R.-N.Y.). Liddy was unfazed, and still supportive of the Republican cause. "I'm a team player," he said on the air (Washington Post, 5/3/95). "If it's better for the team that I not speak, then I'll not speak."
A Tale of Two Liddys
"What I said is, if a federal agent comes knocking at your door-- specifically BATF--says I have a search warrant, open the door, let him in, stand aside and let him search. What I said is, if they come shooting--they're shooting at you now--you have the right to self-defense, and in that event, if they've got a body-protection armor on, you are best to shoot to the groin area."
--G. Gordon Liddy, Crossfire, 4/25/95
"Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they're going to be wearing bulletproof vests."
--G. Gordon Liddy, radio show, 8/26/94
It's Unanimous--JFK Is Public Enemy No. 1
A discussion of talk radio on This Week With David Brinkley (4/23/95) in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing produced this not-so-rare convergence of views from the "left," right and center:
George Will: I must tell you today, the clearest expression of violent hatred of the United States government was a blockbuster success of a movie called JFK, by Oliver Stone--
Cokie Roberts: Right.
Will: --who said, "The federal government is a murderous conspiracy designed to kill Jack Kennedy."
Roberts: Absolutely right. You are right.
Sam Donaldson: It's on the left as well as the right, George. I say it again. You're exactly correct.
For the record, Oliver Stone depicted a past government conspiracy to kill President Kennedy--and suggested that people ought to demand that government files be opened. G. Gordon Liddy depicts a current government conspiracy to take away our freedom--and suggests that we ought to shoot federal agents in the head.
See also "Talk Radio on Oklahoma City."
Richard Bottoms is a documentary filmmaker and freelance writer living in Indianapolis.