Last week we observed -- especially after the arrest of a neo-Nazi in Spokane for a planned bombing of a parade the next day -- that Bill O'Reilly owed Mark Potok a big apology for smearing him after he offered the opinion that, as domestic-terrorism threats go, the extremist right remains a much more potent problem than homegrown Islamic radicals. (OReilly repeated the smear even after the Spokane arrest.)
Of course, we knew that wasn't gonna happen. But last night on The O'Reilly Factor, we got to see the next best thing: Potok pinning O'Reilly's ears to the wall for the smear.
O'REILLY: Now a few weeks ago, Mr. Potok, you said on CNN the biggest terrorist threat is coming from the radical right community. Do you still stand by that?
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: That is false as I think you know. I said the biggest domestic threat to America was from domestic radical right not domestic jihadists, in other words, not home-grown American Muslims. That was twisted on your show by you.
O'REILLY: All right. So you -- it wasn't twisted by me -- no, no, it wasn't twisted because your statement is dubious. It wasn't well -- with all due respect because we like you as a guest -- your statement was not well put.
Let me read your exact statement ok. It's not our biggest -- this is talking about Muslim jihadists. "It's not our biggest domestic threat. I think that pretty clearly comes from the radical right in this country."
Now I'll dispute that. I think that Muslims jihadists are a much bigger threat than the radical right and the numbers back me up: Fort Hood and Fort Dick.
POTOK: Bill, can I just have one --
O'REILLY: Yes. Go ahead.
POTOK: One thing I want to say, immediately afterwards you said, Muslim terrorists or jihadists have killed tens of thousands of people all over the world. Well, that is true. I don't disagree with that at all. I certainly think that as an external matter, Al-Qaeda is far greater threat. I don't think there's much question about that. But that's not what I said.
O'REILLY: All right. I'm glad you are saying that.
In fact, it might be helpful to remember exactly what it was that Potok actually said on CNN:
MALVEAUX: If you can from your study of tracking radical groups, potentially hate groups, what do you think of this hearing? Is al Qaeda radicalizing Muslims? Is that our biggest homegrown terrorism threat right now?
POTOK: Well, I think it's not our biggest domestic terror threat. I think that pretty clearly comes from the radical right in this country. Although I would certainly not minimize the threat of jihadist terrorism in this country. Obviously, we have seen a fair amount of it.
Clearly, Potok was drawing a distinction between jihadist terrorism of the international kind and the (so far) quite limited threat of homegrown Islamic radicalism. But O'Reilly refuses to recognize the distinction:
O'REILLY: But you put -- no, you yourself in a position, of criticizing Peter King's hearings on what domestic terror threat is from the jihadists. In the context of where you were it seemed to me diminishing that in favor of saying the right wing radicals are a bigger threat. I don't believe the right wing radicals are a bigger threat. And I don't believe Americans see it either.
I could be wrong. One thing you do have going for you in Spokane where a nut named Karen Hartman with ties to white supremacists has now been indicted for putting a bomb on the road during a Martin Luther King Day parade -- thank God it didn't go off.
You do have those isolated incidents and there are white supremacist groups who are a bunch of idiots and FBI are all over them.
Ah yes, the famous "isolated incidents". So far, just in the past two-and-a-half years, we're up to 24 of them and counting:
But O'Reillyesque ignorance is widespread -- and so is O'Reillyesque arrogance, as we saw this week when a group of Minutemen in Iowa managed to bring a halt to a terrorism-training exercise because the scenario involved white supremacists attacking immigrants. Indeed, as Potok mentions, the resulting threats forced authorities to call off the exercise.
O'Reilly somehow thinks this makes the people who dreamed up the scenario look bad, and not the hate callers whose ignorance shut the drill down. Perhaps that's because it's an ignorance they share with O'Reilly, who only a couple of weeks before hosted a segment in which he and his guests dismissed the cold-blooded murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father at the hands of a group of killer Minutemen -- white supremacists who were targeting Latinos for murder. That, too, was -- you guessed it -- just another "isolated incident".
OREILLY: Now, in Iowa, this thing was cancelled because, basically they wanted to run a drill that right wing terrorists were coming down from the corn fields and shooting children. I think most Americans go, that is stupid, it's a waste of money why are you bothering.
POTOK: Well, are you going to tell our viewers why it was cancelled.
O'REILLY: Yes, because they had threats.
POTOK: It was cancelled because they had enormous number of threats.
O'REILLY: Not enormous, they had threats.
POTOK: I just talked to a reporter out there. The threat that really made them shut the exercise down was a call to the school that said if you go through this, something like you envision will happen or may happen. So who is to say? Sounds like the people you're --
O'REILLY: Yes, it's terrible. It's awful. And I ceded to you that there are white supremacist groups that the FBI should be watching and they do anything like this, they should arrest them. But at this juncture --
O'REILLY: Mr. Potok, you are not going to convince the American public that these far right kooks are more dangerous than the jihad? You're not going to do that.
And I'll give you the last word.
POTOK: Well, Bill, that is not what I said once again. So I think it would be good if you paid attention to what was actually said rather than going on television and calling me a lot of names. I'm a member --
O'REILLY: I didn't call you any names Mr. Potok. I used your own words --
POTOK: I saw the transcripts. What name -- I don't appreciate that kind of mischaracterization.
O'REILLY: What name did I call you?
POTOK: You said we were part of the radical left, the nuts on the left, who were coming up with this kind of lunatic --
O'REILLY: I don't think I called you that.
POTOK: -- which you have utterly misinterpreted.
Just for the record, here's exactly what O'Reilly said while disparaging Potok and Ezra Klein:
It all goes back to America being the world's biggest villain. The far left believes that the United States has provoked Muslim extremists by backing Israel and doing business with the oil sheiks. To radicals on the left, the jihadists are simply misguided and would stop their terrible killings if only we understood them and changed our foreign and domestic policies.
That's what the far left truly believes, and that's why you're hearing all of this absurd nonsense.
Potok didn't get the apology he deserved. But he did get his pound of flesh.
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