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Glenn Beck's Violent Words Harm America

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Byron Williams

Ever heard of the Tides Foundation? Like most Americans, I wasn't familiar with it, either. I only recently learned about Tides' history of support for progressive causes, such as environmentalism, human rights, education, and combating the global AIDS crisis.

Sadly, I only got wind of what this foundation does because of what's happened since Fox Network Host Glenn Beck started to dishonestly attack the work of Tides as part of a plan to "seize power and destroy capitalism."

Beck has used his TV show and his celebrity at least 29 times over 18 months to disparage this foundation with inflammatory rhetoric -- rhetoric which recently inspired one of his California viewers to start a "revolution" against Tides' leaders by attempting to kill them.

On the way to Tides, California Highway Patrol officers noticed Byron Williams' erratic driving. When they intervened, Williams, who was twice convicted of bank robbery, shot his weapons -- a 9mm handgun, a shotgun and a .308-caliber rifle with armor-piercing bullets. Thankfully, only bullet-shattered glass injured two officers.

As a lawyer who has practiced and taught First Amendment law, I appreciate Beck's right to speak his mind on any issue. But as a former First Amendment lawyer and instructor, I also know that with this freedom comes responsibility, and just as important, consequences.

Williams (pictured above) pulled the trigger on those two officers, but Beck's harsh rhetoric against Tides and other leaders of progressive groups, whom he identifies as "enemies," have helped stoke the fires of outrage in a sector of the American public that is armed and eager to do battle with foes that they believe -- or have been led to believe - are in some way destroying our country.

Beck acknowledges that he has viewers who are capable of responding violently to his hyperbolic accusations. He has warned, "it is only a matter of time before an actual crazy person really does something stupid."

But this recognition of the power and consequences of his words has not dampened his enthusiasm for injecting them with violence to hammer home his perspective. According to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, some of Beck's favorite phrases include: "The war is just beginning . . .. Shoot me in the head if you try to change our government . . .. There is a coup going on . . .. Grab a torch! . . . Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers . . .. They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered . . .. They are putting a gun to America's head . . .. Hold these people responsible."

As I pointed out in my blog last week, this is the same Beck who is planning a "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 - the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Beck's rally will prominently feature such divisive figures and gun-worshippers as Ted Nugent and Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, and Sarah Palin.

Beck wants us to believe that his rally is blessed by "divine providence", and is part of a transition to his picking up the mantle of King's dream, which he claims has been "lost and distorted."

I heard Dr. King speak back in the 1960's and this Nobel Prize for Peace-winner's dream looked nothing like the hate and blood-soaked imagery Beck conjures with his TV show rhetoric. When King used his preacher's pulpit and international celebrity to speak to the "enemies" of social justice, he imagined an America where black and white children would play together, and where Jews, Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics would join hands in a fight for social justice. His dream, ultimately, was supported by "faith" that would "transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

In his biography, Strength to Love, King tells us that, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend." Not incendiary language or armor-piercing bullets. Love. He further argued that, "Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon," - one "which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it." Non-violence is the just and ennobling weapon, not a 9 mm gun.

In his plea for a more just society through non-violent means, King urged us to remember the qualities that make us human and that allow us to exercise all of the privileges and rights that have accrued to us as Americans.

Man is "distinguished from animals by his freedom to do evil or to do good," King said, "and to walk the high road of beauty or tread the low road of ugly degeneracy."

Glenn Beck has a way with words. So did Martin Luther King, Jr. You decide whose words are most fitting for us, as Americans, to follow.

Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.