DENVER — A conservative radio talk-show host has called it quits amid threats from people who believe his hard-nosed opinions about President Clinton may have incited a Colorado man to spray the White House with gunfire.
"I'm leaving," Chuck Baker, 50, told listeners of his popular show "On the Carpet," which has aired for six years on KVOR-AM in Colorado Springs, about 70 miles south of Denver.
"I'm sure that will make you left-wing liberals out there very happy," Baker said, "but it will be a long time before we have an opportunity to visit here again in the afternoon."
In the same farewell on Tuesday, Baker fumed over rumors that Francisco Martin Duran--the Widefield, Colo., man who fired 27 shots at the White House from a semiautomatic assault rifle last month--told investigators that he was influenced by "On the Carpet."
"So what if the jerk, the wacko, the creep . . . that shot the White House said that. If this man thinks I or Rush Limbaugh are the reason he went out there, he needs psychiatric counseling in the first degree."
Baker could not be reached for comment. But KVOR general manager Donn Seidholz said Baker was pushed to the "edge of a nervous breakdown" by a flood of hate mail and telephone calls immediately after the Oct. 29 shooting incident--and rumors that investigators wanted to indict him for co-conspiracy.
"All that, coupled with the fact that Chuck had not had a vacation in six months, exploded on him," Seidholz said. "Now, he's trying to get his head together. He will come back to work eventually, I hope."
Seidholz denied that Baker ever urged anybody to shoot Clinton.
However, Baker may have figured in a telephone call that Duran placed to Democratic Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's Colorado Springs office on Aug. 23. That day, Baker urged his listeners to take action against the crime bill, which included a ban on certain assault rifles.
"Duran called us and said, 'This is very bad. I will go to Washington and take someone out,' " said Alton Dillard, a spokesman for Campbell. "A peculiar thing about it was that Duran also gave us his name."
A tape recording of that call, which was among hundreds Campbell's office received that day on the crime bill issue, has been turned over to the Secret Service, Dillard said.
On Thursday, Duran, 26, pleaded not guilty to a federal attempted assassination charge, which carries a maximum possible punishment of life imprisonment.
Federal prosecutors in Washington have refused to divulge any specific evidence supporting the charge, except to suggest that it is based largely on statements given to the FBI this month by several people who knew Duran in Colorado and on observations by people in Washington.
Meanwhile, KVOR has been hit by a new wave of telephone calls and letters from people who want Baker back on the air, Seidholz said.
"We'd welcome him back with open arms," Seidholz said. "I think he will be a more tolerant man on the air; he'll have the same opinions but he'll be a lot more sensitive."
That would be a refreshing change, according to critics of the talk-show host who have long feared that his tirades against liberals in general and the Clinton Administration in particular were potentially dangerous.
In a recent program, for example, Baker said: "We ought to slap (U.S. Atty. Gen.) Janet Reno across the face" and "send her back to Florida where she can live with her relatives--the gators."
"Clearly, such comments are inflammatory and really do fan the fires of hate," said Bill Huddy of Citizens Project, a group that monitors the activities of extreme right-wing political and religious groups in Colorado Springs.
Dillard agreed, saying it would be a good idea for Baker, who sometimes broadcast live from a Colorado Springs-area gun shop, "to keep a low profile for a while."