Byron Williams told investigators that he had wanted to “start a revolution” by “killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU.”
Already on parole for bank robbery and angry at his government, Byron Williams was heavily armed and wearing body armor when he was stopped one night in July by the California Highway Patrol in Oakland for driving erratically. A furious shootout followed. Flying glass injured two officers, and Williams survived multiple gunshot wounds.
Williams later told investigators that he had wanted to “start a revolution” by “killing people of importance at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU,” a police affidavit stated. “There is no doubt” that Williams was on his way to commit a serious crime against an individual or a group, based on his body armor and an “excessive amount of ammunition,” a highway patrol sergeant added.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is widely known. But the Tides Foundation? What is it, and how did Williams know of it? The San Francisco-based foundation provides money and other services around the world “to individuals and institutions committed to accelerating positive social change through philanthropy,” according to its website. Its offshoot organizations “work for sustainability, better education, solutions to the AIDS epidemic, comprehensive immigration reform, and human rights,” its CEO said in a written statement.
It’s not definitively known what caused Williams to target the Tides Foundation, which is little known to the general public. But, as it turns out, the foundation had been attacked verbally on repeated occasions by Glenn Beck of Fox News, who sees Tides as a sinister organization, hell-bent on destroying capitalism. A review by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America found that between Jan. 19, 2009 — when Beck’s TV show debuted — and the July 18 California shootout, Tides was mentioned on 29 editions of his program, as well as on two occasions by Beck’s Fox News colleague Sean Hannity. Media Matters could not find a single mention of Tides on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC or PBS during those 18 months.
That doesn’t prove that Williams was targeting Tides because of Beck’s continual carping about the foundation. But Williams’ mother told the San Francisco Chronicle that her unemployed son had been watching television news and was upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items.”
Just four days before the Oakland shootout, Beck was on the air suggesting the foundation was all about seizing power. A day before that, Beck said the foundation “saw under Ronald Reagan that capitalists were not for all this nonsense, so they infiltrated. Now, they are using failing capitalism to destroy it.” In a June broadcast, Beck said that a Tides-funded video was shown in schools throughout America “to warp your children’s brains and make sure they know how evil capitalism is.” In May, Beck proclaimed Tides a “really shady organization.”
The case was reminiscent of that of accused Pittsburgh cop-killer Richard Poplawski, who allegedly murdered three officers responding to an April 2009 domestic disturbance at the home of Poplawski’s mother.
After Poplawski’s arrest, his closest friend described the accused killer as a Glenn Beck fan who was disturbed about possible gun confiscations, martial law and concentration camps purportedly being built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — subjects he had heard Beck discuss on his program. (Beck repeatedly said he couldn’t disprove the detention camp conspiracy theory before finally announcing that he had “debunked” it.)
Poplawski even posted a link on Stormfront.org, a white supremacist website, to a video of Beck talking about FEMA camps with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
His friend also said that Poplawski was a fan of Alex Jones, a far-right conspiracy-monger who hosts a popular Texas-based radio show.
Beck denied he’s in any way responsible for the actions of Poplawski or Williams. But at the Tides Foundation, CEO Drummond Pike seemed to disagree. “It should be the obligation of every American, especially those whose voices are amplified by the media, to foster civil discourse and dialogue among those who may disagree about public matters,” Pike said.
Two weeks later, Beck attacked Tides as a “far-left progressive think tank.”