Growing concern in White house about anti-government mood
• Trust in US government at its lowest point for half a century

Ewen MacAskill

The Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after it was ripped apart by a car bomb blast on 19 April, 1995. Photograph: Jim Argo/The Daily Oklahoman/AP

Bill Clinton today warned politicians and commentators to tone down their rhetoric for fear of inflaming hate groups and provoking violence, as a poll suggested that public trust in the US government is at its lowest point for half a century.

Amid growing concern in the White House about the anti-government mood and a marked rise in radical fringe groups, Clinton said the internet made it easier to spread ideas to reach "the unhinged". The worry is not so much over populist movements such as the Tea Party but the revival of extreme groups that have been encouraged by general anti-government sentiment.

On the 15th anniversary of the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, the worst terrorist attack in the US before 9/11, Clinton wrote in the New York Times: "We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time … As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged."

Clinton said it should not be forgotten what drove the Oklahoma bombers. "They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority: the belief that the greatest threat to American freedom is our government and that public servants do not protect our freedoms but abuse them."

At a ceremony in Oklahoma yesterday, survivors and victims' relatives commemorated the 168 people who were killed.

The extent of the anti-government mood in the country was revealed today in a Pew Research Centre poll that found public confidence in the federal government was at its lowest for half a century. Almost eight out of 10 Americans surveyed said they did not trust it; only 22% said they trusted the federal government almost always or most of the time.

Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Centre, said: "Trust in government rarely gets this low. Some of it is backlash against Obama. But there are a lot of other things going on."

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