The shooting at the Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. was the result of the liberal Southern Poverty Law Center stoking the flames by labeling the conservative Christian organization as a hate group, the group’s president Tony Perkins told reporters Thursday.
The suspect, 28-year-old Floyd Corkins of Virginia, was charged with assault with intent to kill after he allegedly shouted “I don’t like your politics” and shot an unarmed guard in the arm. Investigators found ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in the suspect’s backpack, according to the Associated Press.
In late 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the Family Research Council, which opposes gay marriage and abortion, as a “hate group” because of its positions on gay issues and its general religious condemnation of same-sex behavior. It placed the group in the same company as the Aryan Nations, Nation of Islam and KKK.
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But the FRC, unlike the Aryan Nations, is not an underground group nor has it ever condoned violence. It is a mainstay in conservative politics and its top members are often key players in Washington politics.
“Let me be very clear here that Floyd Corkins was responsible for the wounding of one of our colleagues and friends at the Family Research Council,” Perkins told Megyn Kelly of Fox News. “But I believe he was given a license to do that by a group such as the Southern Poverty Law Center who labeled us a hate group because we defend the family and stand for traditional orthodox Christianity.”
“Terrorism is designed to intimidate and to drive people back and make them feel fearful,” Perkins said. “Well, that I believe would describe what they tried to do here yesterday at the Family Research Council and by extension to traditional value supporters, Christians across the nation.”
“But I want to tell you it’s not going to work,” Perkins continued. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re more committed today than we were yesterday to defending and advancing faith, family and freedom here in our nation’s capital.”
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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.”
But later, at a press conference outside the very doors where Corkins began shooting, Perkins blasted the SPLC for stifling speech it didn’t agree with under the cloak of monitoring “hate groups.”
Perkins pointed out 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
Perkins later told Talking Points Media that 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.”
Also on Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to say whether the Obama administration views the attack as a hate crime.
President Obama “was very concerned about the victim, the person who was shot, and made clear to me and I conveyed this to the pool, that he firmly believes that violence of that kind has no place in our society and this goes to the greater discussion we’ve had about violence in America and the need to tackle it on multiple fronts,” Carney told reporters.
When asked if the president considers the attack a “hate crime,” Carney replied, “those determinations are made by the FBI.”
Under federal law, attacks motivated by dislike of a religion can be treated as a “hate crime” in which extra penalties can be imposed on the attackers.
Corkins faces charges of assault with intent to kill and bringing firearms across state. A judge on Thursday ordered him held pending a hearing next week. Corkins was otherwise silent during the hearing and stared ahead impassively.
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The assault charge carries up to 30 years in prison and the weapons charge has a 10-year maximum sentence.
Corkins received a master's degree in 2006 from George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development in Fairfax. He earlier attended Grace Brethren Christian School near Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.
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