It's not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by people who watch his show. Yet Williams isn't the only such character with a seeming affinity for the Fox News host. In April 2009, a man allegedly armed with an AK-47, a .22-caliber rifle and a handgun was charged with killing three cops in Pittsburgh. The Anti-Defamation League reported that the accused killer had, as part of a pattern of activities involving far-right conspiracy theories, posted a link on a neo-Nazi Web site to a video of Beck talking about the possibility that FEMA was operating concentration camps in Wyoming. The killings came after Beck told Fox viewers that he "can't debunk" the notion that FEMA was operating such camps -- but before he finally acknowledged that the conspiracy wasn't real.
Beck has at times spoken against violence, but he more often forecasts it, warning that "it is only a matter of time before an actual crazy person really does something stupid." Most every broadcast has some violent imagery: "The clock is ticking.... The war is just beginning.... Shoot me in the head if you try to change our government.... You have to be prepared to take rocks to the head.... The other side is attacking.... 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."
Beck has prophesied darkly to his millions of followers that we are reaching "a point where the people will have exhausted all their options. When that happens, look out." One night on Fox, discussing the case of a man who killed 10 people, Beck suggested such things were inevitable. "If you're a conservative, you are called a racist, you want to starve children," he said. "And every time they do speak out, they are shut down by political correctness. How do you not have those people turn into that guy?"
Here's one idea: Stop encouraging them.
Now there's a thought. Beck is perhaps the worst media demagogue since Father Coughlin in the 1930s. Fox News should be pressured not to wait until Beck has a body count before stopping him. His freedom of speech does not entitle him to a contract with Fox. The tables need to be turned on that network for its unscrupulous trafficking in nativist paranoia for the sake of profits; but that cannot be done by Democrats who are themselves governed by fear.
(Hat tip: Media Matters. Photo of Glenn Beck by Richard Drew/AP)