The Rev. Pat Robertson apologized yesterday for calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying he spoke "in frustration" over the U.S. government's inaction toward a man who has "found common cause with terrorists."
The religious broadcaster's comments Monday on his television show "The 700 Club" unleashed a flood of criticism, not only from the State Department and Venezuela's ambassador but also from some evangelical Christian leaders in the United States.
Robertson, 75, at first responded by insisting that his remarks had been misinterpreted by the news media.
"Wait a minute, I didn't say 'assassination.' I said our Special Forces should 'take him out,' and 'take him out' can be a number of things, including kidnapping," he said on yesterday's edition of his flagship show on the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Yesterday evening, however, Robertson issued a written clarification acknowledging that he had used the word "assassination." He said he had ad-libbed his original comments Monday, which included the sentence "I don't know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it."
Robertson's clarification went on to say: "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him."
At the same time, Robertson continued to argue that Chavez is a danger to the United States and to suggest that assassinations are not always immoral. He quoted the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as saying: "If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe. . . . I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver."
Robertson noted that Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis for supporting a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. His example, Robertson said, "deserves our respect and consideration today."
This is not the first time that Robertson has issued a convoluted apology. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he appeared to agree with the Rev. Jerry Falwell on a "700 Club" broadcast that the attacks were God's punishment for feminists, gays, lesbians and liberal groups. But Robertson later said he conducted the interview with Falwell over a studio monitor and had not fully understood what Falwell was saying.