Williams, 62, the host of MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour” and a former anchor for “NBC Nightly News”before a scandal cost him his job, used his final moments on the air to send a warning about the future of democracy.
“The truth is I’m not a liberal or a conservative. I’m an institutionalist,” he said. “I believe in this place and my love of country I yield to no one. But the darkness on the edge of town has spread to the main roads and highways and neighborhoods. It’s now at the local bar, and the bowling alley, at the school board, in the grocery store. And it must be acknowledged and answered for.
“Grown men and women, who swore an oath to our Constitution, elected by their constituents, possessing the kind of college degrees I could only dream of, have decided to join the mob and become something they are not, while hoping we somehow forget who they were,” Williams continued. “They’ve decided to burn it all down with us inside.”
Williams announced in November that he would be leaving NBC. Rashida Jones, the president of MSNBC, wrote in a note to staff at the time that Williams “has informed us he would like to take the coming months to spend time with his family.”
Williams apologized on the air for telling an account of a 2003 helicopter mission during the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Williams had told the story several times, and at first, told it correctly: that a rocket-propelled grenade struck a helicopter that was traveling ahead of his. Later, Williams said he was on the helicopter that was struck.
After other stories Williams told began to be called into question, he was suspended for six months. Eventually, he was replaced as lead anchor by Lester Holt.
Williams then moved to MSNBC, where he began hosting the news talk show “The 11th Hour.”
Williams has not revealed his future plans, but in a November note to staff members at NBC, he wrote that he expects to “pop up again somewhere.”
The anchor said as much Thursday night.
“I will probably find it impossible to be silent and stay away from you (the viewer) and lights and cameras,” Williams said. “After I experiment with relaxation and find out what I’ve missed and what’s out there.”
Here are some memorable photos of journalist Brian Williams through the years.
1995: News anchor Brian Williams during an interview with host Jay Leno on December 19, 1995.
2000: Republican presidential nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush (left) talks with news anchor Brian Williams before going live on a television show in New York on September 20, 2000.
2002: Journalist Brian Williams attends the "NBC Nightly News" news conference May 28, 2002, in New York City.
2003: NBC anchorman Brian Williams poses with Dental Technician 1st Class Ervin Borja aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa March 13, 2003, at sea in the Arabian Gulf.
2004: NBC News anchors Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams attend the International Radio and Television Society Foundation’s 2004 Gold Medal Dinner honoring the broadcast network news anchors at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on March 16, 2004, in New York City.
2005: Rabbi Marvin Hier, comedian Jay Leno, NBC News anchor Brian Williams and NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Bob Wright attend the Simon Wiesenthal/Museum of Tolerance National Tribute Dinner honoring Wright on May 4, 2005, in Beverly Hills, California.
2006: NBC News anchor Brian Williams, director/writer Emilio Estevez and actress Sharon Stone attend a special screening after party for the film "Bobby" hosted by the Weinstein Co. at Le Cirque on November 14, 2006, in New York City.
2007: "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams, Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray Cyrus pose backstage at the sixth annual New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend at the Graduate Center of CUNY on January 6, 2007, in New York City.
2008: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), moderator Tim Russert, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and news anchor Brian Williams during the Democratic presidential debate held at Cashman Center in Las Vegas on January 15, 2008.
2009: News anchor Brian Williams poses with Sesame Street muppets at the seventh annual gala benefiting Sesame Workshop at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 27, 2009, in New York City.
2010: Brian Williams and his wife, Jane, arrive at NBC Universal’s Press Tour Cocktail Party at Langham Hotel on January 10, 2010, in Pasadena, California.
2011: Brian Williams of NBC attends IAVA’s fifth annual Heroes Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street on November 9, 2011, in New York City.
2012: Brian Williams and Katie Couric attend the New York Giants Super Bowl Pep Rally Luncheon at Michael’s on February 1, 2012, in New York City.
2013: CollegeHumor co-founder Ricky Van Veen, actress Allison Williams, news anchor Brian Williams and radio host/ producer Jane Stoddard Williams pose with actress/singer Rita Wilson backstage following her performance at 54 Below on April 17, 2013, in New York City.
2014: News anchor Brian Williams, actress Allison Williams and Jane Stoddard Williams attend the "Girls" Season 3 premiere at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 6, 2014, in New York City.
2015: Brian Williams, Allison Williams and Jane Stoddard Williams attend the "Girls" Season 4 series premiere after-party at the Museum of Natural History on January 5, 2015, in New York City.
2016: Brian Williams appears in a portrait.
2017: Brian Williams and Allison Williams attend the New York premiere of the xixth and final season of "Girls" at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on February 2, 2017, in New York City.
2018: Brian Williams, Jane Williams, Doug Williams and Allison Williams attend 100 Women in Finance’s New York gala benefiting Horizons National at Cipriani 42nd Street on November 7, 2018, in New York City.
2019: Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace, Chris Matthews and former Sen. Claire McCaskill in Studio 3A at 30 Rockefeller Plaza on Tuesday, February 5, 2019.