Former Homeland Security head: Heated political rhetoric threatens public safety

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said Sunday the rise of incendiary political rhetoric in recent years threatens public safety.

“No one can say that any particular comment leads a madman to decide to do this but I do believe that the general coarsening and aggravation of the dialogue, the fact that disagreement is often characterized as a matter of people having enemies or wanting to commit acts of violence does affect some minority of individuals and that raises the danger to everybody,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

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Chertoff made his comment in response to a 1995 quote from former President Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing: “We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate, they leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable.”

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), a leading gun control advocate whose husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island Railroad shooting, endorsed Chertoff’s comments and admonished some of her colleagues.

“Since I’ve been in Congress I’ve seen over the last several years the deterioration of working with each other,” McCarthy said. “When you listen to the words of some of my colleagues, are inflammatory …. Just in the last past week a few of my colleagues came out with statements on other people, which are absolutely not true.”

Tea Party-favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) drew criticism from Republican colleagues last week for accusing Huma Abedin, a senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of having family ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) criticized Bachmann’s claim on the Senate floor.

“When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation and we all grow poorer because of it,” he said.