House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Sunday that political leaders must take seriously the virulent anti-government sentiment spotlighted by the Oklahoma City bombing, stressing that “genuine fear” of federal power cannot be dismissed as the ranting of a radical fringe.
“There is in rural America … a genuine fear of the federal government and of Washington, D.C., as a place that doesn’t understand their way of life and doesn’t understand their values,” Gingrich, R-Ga., said in a television interview. “This is not an extremist position in much of the West.”
Gingrich defended the effort to repeal the ban on assault weapons and said the House would hold hearings on the deadly 1993 siege near Waco, Texas. He added that the promotion of Larry Potts, an FBI official who had overseen the raid on the Branch Davidian cult compound at Waco, might give Congress second thoughts about President Clinton’s effort to give the FBI more antiterrorism authority.
Gingrich and other Republicans are striking a tricky political balance following the Oklahoma City bombing and the unflattering publicity that has been showered on right-wing anti-government groups.
Gingrich has kept his distance from the violent extremes of the right. He has insisted, for example, that it is “grotesque” to suggest his anti-government rhetoric had contributed to the climate that fostered violent extremism. And during Sunday’s interview, Gingrich criticized radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy for advising listeners how to shoot federal agents.
But in Sunday’s interview and elsewhere, Gingrich has continued championing the causes these extremist groups have rallied around: criticism of the Waco raid, opposition to gun control and general anti-government sentiment.
Gingrich made his comments as Congress prepares to consider the federal budget, abortion and gun control - issues that will test Republican leaders’ ability to hold together their conservative and moderate wings.
Gingrich predicted that a proposal to repeal the ban on certain assault weapons would come up in the House in late fall - months after the mid-May target date set before the Oklahoma City bombing made anti-guncontrol forces reluctant to push the issue.
Gingrich, who opposes abortion, also suggested that a constitutional amendment to ban abortions would be unwise because it might increase the number of illegal abortions. “I think this is a topic where, frankly, we have to win the argument in the country,” he said.
Gingrich also denounced groups that resort to violence but backed away from a blanket condemnation of the American militia movement.