WASHINGTON — Standing outside the same doors a gunman with a backpack full of ammunition and Chick-fil-A entered before shooting a man on Wednesday morning, the Family Research Council Tony Perkins said the Southern Poverty Law Center gave the man a “license to shoot” by labeling the FRC a hate group.
The SPLC’s Mark Potok called the claim “outrageous” in a statement issued late 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,” Potok said in the statement. “The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse — claims that are provably false.”
Perkins said at his press conference that while Corkins was responsible for firing the shot that wounded the FRC employee yesterday, he was “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 issues of public policy.”
One group that may agree that it’s unfair to blame rhetoric for the violent acts of other: the FRC. A FRC employee previously said it was unfair for gay rights groups to connect anti-gay rhetoric to anti-gay violence.
“What they’re doing again is trying to exploit a tragedy, to advance a political cause, and silence people who disagree with their viewpoint,” the FRC’s Steve Schwalm told CNN in 1998. Schwalm also said that year that it was “very disturbing” to connect political ideas to the violent acts of others.
“That’s, the Nazis excelled at that, not saying that these people are, but that’s just an illegitimate connection that is very dangerous because it demonizes people’s thoughts and ideas,” Schwalm said.
Perkins did not offer any evidence that Corkins was acting as a direct result of anything the Southern Poverty Law Center has said. Instead he said that the fact that the gunman was carrying 15 Chick-Fil-A sandwiches along with 50 rounds of ammunition — “not something you bring out to the park for a picnic” — as evidence the shooter was motivated by his disagreement with the FRC.
Perkins said that many of the stories about Chick-Fil-A and FRC over the past few weeks have mentioned that it was labeled as a hate group by the SPLC. The FRC has received other threats that they have turned over to authorities, Perkins said.
The SPLC had also issued a statement in the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Wednesday, saying “we condemn all acts of violence and are following the story closely.”
Asked by TPM whether he believes alleged shooter Floyd Corkins should be charged with a hate crime, Perkins said he disagreed with hate crimes on principle but thought the crime qualified as terrorism.
“I’m not a big supporter of the hate crimes statute,” Perkins said. “What I believe is that if you commit an act of violence, it is a crime. I don’t care why you do it, you did it. When you talk about acts of domestic terrorism, terrorism is to intimidate and marginalize and silence a portion of the population. I think this could very well fit in that category.”
Perkins also clarified that the man who was shot but managed to tackle the suspect was a building manager whose duties include security. Perkins said the victim was unarmed and not in uniform when he was shot.