01/09/2011 10:26 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rep. Clyburn Recalls Words Of MLK, Says Americans Need To Speak Out Against Violent Rhetoric (VIDEO)

WASHINGTON -- Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a lawmaker who faced several threats during the heated health care debate, is calling on the country to ratchet down its heated political rhetoric and calling on lawmakers to speak out forcefully and condemn such comments.

Noting that the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) -- which left 13 people wounded and six dead -- occurred just a week before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, Clyburn said on "Fox News Sunday" that "good people" have a responsibility to not be silent:

I think the sheriff out there in Tucson -- I think he's got it right. Words do have consequences, and I think that -- this is nothing new, I've been saying this for a long time now. We're getting ready to celebrate, this weekend, the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., who admonished us that we are going to regret in this generation not just the vitriolic words and deeds of bad people, but the appalling silence of good people.

And I think that what has happened here is the vitriol has gotten so elevated, until people feel emboldened by this. And people, who are a little less than stable, and people aren't thinking for themselves or are so easily influenced, they got out and do things that all of us pay a great price for. I applaud the Republican leadership for doing what they've done in this instance, for giving everybody a chance to step back and take a hard look at this, and decide how we can go forward.

Clyburn, a veteran of the civil rights movement, pointed to some of the "vitriolic" statements from the 2010 campaign, including Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle floating "second amendment remedies" to control Congress.

"I believe that those of us who are in responsible positions owe it to the country and owe it ourselves and owe it to this great institution we call the United States Congress, to speak out against this kind of rhetoric because if you don't, it will keep ratcheting up, up, and up," added Clyburn. "And before you know it, as Martin Luther King has admonished us, the people of ill will will have won the debate."

Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-Wash.) agreed with Clyburn that the "political rhetoric has increased across the board" but did not go as far as he did in pointing to it as a cause of the violence.



In March, Clyburn received racist faxes sent to his office after he voted for health care reform. "If you look at some of the faxes that I got today, racial slurs, nooses on gallows, and I'm telling you, some very vicious language," he said at the time. "This stuff is not all that isolated. It's pretty widespread. I hope it's not too deep." He also reiterated that members needed "to do something in a bipartisan way to try to tamp this down."

In an interview with The Huffington Post Saturday, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) also said, "The climate has gotten so toxic in our political discourse, setting up for this kind of reaction for too long. It's unfortunate to say that. I hate to say that. ... Anybody who contributed to feeding this monster had better step back and realize they're threatening our form of government."

On Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik issued a warning about the effect violent rhetoric can have on unstable individuals, stating, "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

UPDATE, 10:40 a.m.: On CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said that he thought Dupnik's comments were inappropriate:

First, I didn't really think that that had any part in a law enforcement briefing last night. It was speculation. I don't think we should rush to speculate. I thought that the report that we just saw from Tucson seems to have it about right: We really don't know what motivated this young person except to know he was very mentally unstable as was pointed out in the piece. It's probably giving him too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him. We just have to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people in this country. Who knows what motivates them to do what they do? Then they commit terrible crimes like this. I would just note Gabrielle Giffords, a fine representative from Tucson, I think would be the first to say don't rush to judgment here.