At a press conference today, the Family Research Council laid blame for yesterday’s shooting of a security guard directly with the rhetoric of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
According to FRC President Tony Perkins, suspected shooter Floyd Lee Corkins II was given a ”license” to fire by the charged rhetoric of the SPLC, which has labeled the FRC a ”hate group” for their opposition to gay rights.
It was a dramatic declaration from Perkins, who had been relatively silent about the shooting that occurred in the lobby of the FRC on Wednesday morning, Aug. 15. The FRC security guard was struck in the arm before subduing the suspect, but is in stable condition.
Although Perkins thanked LGBT organizations that have condemned the act of violence, including the more that 25 group leaders who signed a statement on Wednesday, he asked them to go a step further and condemn the SPLC.
Speaking outside FRC headquarters in downtown Washington with the words ”Faith, Family, Freedom” etched into the wall of the building behind him, Perkins said the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for its ”reckless use of terminology.”
”Let me be clear that [shooting suspect] Floyd Corkins was responsible for firing the shot yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues and friends, Leo Johnson,” Perkins said. ”But Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as ‘hate groups’ because they disagree them on public policy.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a response to Perkins’s claims later Thursday.
“The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage,” said SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok in a statement. “The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.”
Potok noted that Perkins has argued for the criminalization of homosexuality in the past, and accused the FRC and other groups of politicizing the attack.
“Perkins and his allies, seeing an opportunity to score points, are using the attack on their offices to pose a false equivalency between the SPLC’s criticisms of the FRC and the FRC’s criticisms of LGBT people,” Potok added. “The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false. It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.”
Although Perkins stated the FBI is considering the shooting an act of ”domestic terrorism,” an FBI spokesperson told Metro Weekly that Corkins has only been arraigned on assault charges.
During today’s press conference, Perkins was asked if the shooting should be investigated as a possible hate crime. Perkins replied that he is not a ”big supporter” of hate-crime laws.
FRC has now joined several other anti-gay groups that have condemned that SPLC for labeling organizations opposed to gay rights as ”hate groups.”
In a statement released Aug. 15, National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown also pointed the finger at gay-rights groups that have labeled “pro-marriage” organizations “hate groups.”
“Today’s attack is the clearest sign we’ve seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as ‘hateful’ must end,” said Brown. “The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Family Research Council a ‘hate group’ for its pro-marriage views, and less than a day ago the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling FRC a ‘hate group’ – they even specified that FRC hosts events in Washington, DC, where today’s attack took place.”
Brown said that for “too long national gay rights groups have intentionally marginalized and ostracized pro-marriage groups and individuals by labeling them as ‘hateful’ and ‘bigoted.'”
The conservative American Family Association (AFA) issued a statement Aug. 16 thanking God for his protection and the security guard, Leo Johnson, for his heroism in stopping the shooter. Like NOM, AFA took the opportunity to counter critics, accusing “the left” of waging a cultural war against religion and Christianity.
”Yesterday’s shooter, who was a homosexual activist who volunteered at a D.C. lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community center, took the argument to a whole new and ugly level,” the AFA statement read, in part, making reference to The DC Center.
”Disagreement is not hatred,” the statement continued, ”We don’t hate anyone. In fact, we love homosexuals enough to tell them the truth about the risks involved in their lifestyle choices. But for those who hate the truth, the truth will seem to be hate.”
Following Perkins’s comments, director of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Cole-Schwartz, reiterated the HRC’s condemnation of violence, but warned that the shooting by a lone gunman was rapidly becoming politicized.
”Our hearts go out to the victim, his family and the rest of his co-workers at FRC,” Cole-Schwartz wrote in an email to Metro Weekly. ”Unfortunately this issue is beginning to be unnecessarily politicized, confusing the disagreements we have over LGBT equality – not our unity against violence. The SPLC has called attention to FRC’s past statements and positions which is entirely legitimate.”
”Violence is never justified and no right-thinking person should believe that an organization being designated as a ‘hate group’ is license to do anything but have a civil discussion over political disagreements.”
[Editor's note: This report was updated Aug. 16 at 5:20 p.m. to include SPLC's statement.]