Some of the nation’s most prominent conservative Christian groups are demanding to be removed from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups,” arguing that the designation, and not their advocacy, is to blame for yesterday’s shooting of a security guard at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C.
FRC president Tony Perkins appeared at a news conference Thursday afternoon and said that while he held accused shooter Floyd Lee Corkins II solely responsible for the crime, he believed that organizations like the SPLC had given the suspect “a license to shoot an unarmed man.”
“I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology,” said Perkins.
The Southern Poverty Law Center responded to Perkins on its Hate Watch blog Thursday.
“Perkins’ accusation is outrageous,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow of SPLC and editor of its Intelligence Report and Hatewatch blog. “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. 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.”
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association echoed Perkins’ accusations. He said the shooting Wednesday showed “the left’s war on religion and Christianity has now gone from symbolic to literal.”
“We don’t hate anyone,” said Fischer in a statement. “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.”
Corkins, 28, of Herndon, Va., was charged in federal court Thursday for the shooting that wounded security guard Leo Johnson in the arm. The defendant faces charges of assault with intent to kill and transporting a firearm across state lines. According to an FBI affidavit provided to The Advocate, Corkins said “I don’t like your politics” and opened fire in the building at 801 G Street NW. Authorities found a box of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backback. The FRC has defended the fast food restaurant from recent high-profile criticism over its owner’s opposition to marriage equality.
“Based on my investigation, I know that a senior executive of Chick-fil-A, Inc. recently announced publicly his opposition to same-sex marriage,” wrote the FBI agent involved with the investigation. “This announcement received substantial publicity. I further know that the Family Research Council is a Christian conservative policy organization which supports traditional marriage.”
The affidavit said that Corkins’ parents, with whom he lives, told the FBI that he has "strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.” He also had been volunteering with the DC Center for the LGBT Community, the center’s executive director confirmed yesterday.
Corkins has been ordered held without bond, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. He is due back in court next Friday for a preliminary hearing and detention hearing, and the judge has granted a government request that he receive a mental evaluation.
No hate-crime charges have been filed against Corkins, and the investigation into the suspect’s motives is ongoing, according to the FBI. However, the AFA’s Fischer in his statement called on the SPLC “to explicitly and publicly condemn the motives of yesterday’s shooter, and to remove both FRC and AFA from its hate group list.”
Fischer said the SPLC “is to blame” for the shooting because they have “repeatedly and without cause demonized FRC, and have spent years stirring up anger in the homosexual community.” In fact, he said the SPLC qualifies for its own “hate group” list by virtue of “propagating known falsehoods about homosexuality.”
“SPLC claims it only lists organizations as ‘hate groups’ if they engage in the ‘propagation of known falsehoods’ about homosexuality. But the SPLC website itself lists numerous falsehoods about homosexuality,” said Fischer. “For instance, the SPLC says, without a single shred of proof, that homosexuals are born that way, that it is impossible to leave the gay lifestyle, and that homosexuals are not at elevated risks of depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.”
The SPLC's Potok responded to that charge with reference to scientific fact.
“As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is ‘a homosexual problem’ — an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated,” said the group. “An FRC official has said he wanted to ‘export homosexuals from the United States.’ The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”
Perkins and Fischer followed Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, who as early as Wednesday blamed the “hate group” label for the shooting, saying, “Today's attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end.”
SPLC's Potok aruged that, to the contrary, what must end is the conservative Christian groups’ false statements against LGBT people.
“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,” said the SPLC. “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.”