In the News: Anti-Fundamentalist Hate Crime?

FRC President Tony Perkins.

According to a story from Religion News Service, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of inciting a hate crime against them on Wednesday.  The irony is beyond painful.  The SPLC has long been a leading voice identifying and condemning right-wing hate violence.  Is Perkins’ accusation a mere stunt? Or does the SPLC have to acknowledge its role in this crime?

On Wednesday, Floyd Lee Corkins II allegedly entered an FRC office in Washington DC and shot unarmed security guard Leo Johnson in the arm.

FRC President Perkins blamed the SPLC for inciting this violent act.  Perkins claimed,

“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 with them on public policy.”

The SPLC has, in fact, accused the FRC of some despicable actions.  According to the SPLC, the FRC demonizes homosexuality.  FRC leaders, according to the SPLC, have publicly advocated the expulsion of all homosexuals from the USA.  The FRC, according to the SPLC, has also equated homosexuality with pedophilia.  These are not insignificant claims.

As Chris Lisee reported for Religion News Service, the alleged shooter had been an activist at some local gay-rights organizations.  Even more curious, he had been carrying a large bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches.  The symbolism seems unmistakeable.  After all, given the recent culture-war dust-up over Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy, a gay activist might not usually purchase fifteen sandwiches from the chain.  Fox News claims that just before opening fire,  Corkins said, “I don’t like your politics.”

So was this an anti-fundamentalist hate-crime?  Can the SPLC be held accountable?  The SPLC’s Mark Potok called the FRC claim “outrageous.”   Other gay-rights organizations quickly condemned the shooting.  Potok’s defense makes an important point.  The FRC shooting was a tragedy, Potok claimed, but Perkins was cynically taking advantage of this event to claim a “false equivalency” between the FRC and other victims of hate crimes.

Nevertheless, Perkins’ accusation raises important questions.  As we’ve seen with other recent culture-war violence, such as the deadly shootings at the Sikh temple near Milwaukee, the dangers of escalating America’s culture war are real.  Language that demonizes the opposition hurts us all.  The solution must be more along the lines of Matthew Lee Anderson’s and John Corvino’s response to the Chick-fil-A affair: we must talk to one another.  Openly, honestly, and even painfully and awkwardly, if necessary.  We don’t need to agree, and we must avoid the false solution of merely papering over our disagreements.  But we must also all agree–as most groups do in this case–that violence is not part of these discussions.

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  1. Ed Brandt

     /  August 17, 2012

    SPLC is anti-violence, full stop. They are not responsible for this act. Labelling an organization like FRC a hate group is both an opinion on their part, and pretty damned accurate if you ask me. Tony Perkins has his opinion as well, but did he show that the gunman was directly influenced by SPLC or that he was a representative of the organization?

    I do agree this is a hate-crime, and in fact an argument could be made that it was a terrorist act. Was the shooting designed to send a message toward a particular group? Check. Was the violence a result of a premeditated plan? Check. This man is a domestic terrorist.

    Tony Perkins should blame the terrorist, not the information he may have come in contact with. His charge is similar to the onionheads who blame President Obama for the movie theater and Sikh temple shootings. They are all glomming on to an opportunity to further their political points, whether they can legitimately draw a direct correlation or not.

    • I’m convinced, Ed. While this qualifies as an execrable hate crime against a group the SPLC has denounced, that does not automatically make the SPLC accountable. As you mention, the SPLC has a decades-long track record of opposing political and cultural violence. This is not the kind of situation in which a group promotes violence, then adds a little tag at the bottom saying it does not advocate violence. The SPLC has always firmly denounced violence on all sides. I feel for the wounded security guard, and I quake at the prospect of a broadening free-for-all in culture-war terrorism, but that does not mean that the SPLC is to blame, any more than the FRC would be to blame for an atrocity against, say, a doctor who provided abortions.

  2. ChazIng

     /  August 17, 2012

    In one document [], the FRC does use multiple peer-reviewed sources. The interpretations are questionable as are most things in the social science. I do think that the SPLC profile for the FRC is too simplistic and does nothing to explain the ‘hate the sin not the sinner’ stance of most evangelicals.

  3. I am not a fan of the SPLC. While their goals may be laudable, they have shown a persistent propensity for oversimplification of both issues and groups. In fact, if you’re part of a little known group it doesn’t take much more than the misbehavior of a single, aberrant branch of that group to get the whole branded as hateful. And once on that list, it’s damned difficult if not impossible to get off.

    That said, the responsibility for this crime must be placed solely on the shooter. SPLC may be reckless in the information it provides, but providing information is not equivalent to advocating violence.

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