More on Rhetoric, Hatred, and Violence

Yesterday, I wrote about Floyd Corkins, the man who shot a security guard at the Family Research Council. (By the way, many people have called him a gay activist. I haven’t yet seen any reporting that identified him as gay; so far we only know that he was a volunteer at a D.C. LGBT community center. Straight people do volunteer for LGBT groups these days.) More recent reporting says that he was carrying Chik-Fil-A bags, apparently in an attempt to make a point about opposing LGBT rights.  I was deeply disturbed that anyone would do such a thing, as if in my name. As my post’s title suggested, fighting hate with violence is absurd and appalling.

But after my post yesterday, Zack Ford of ThinkProgress and Jeremy Hooper of Good As You called me out on suggesting that we all dial down the rhetoric. Zack tweeted:

Are you serious? The rhetoric of equality and inequality are not two sides of the same coin. That comparison is outlandish.

This isn't just he-said, she-said. This is one side calling for a group of people to be treated as less than, and the other not.

Hooper wrote:

…how can anyone seriously ask that we "all dial down the rhetoric" as if this is an equally-footed ask? I mean, yes, anyone from any view who speaks in an over-the-top way should be called out for doing so, and I certainly am the first to make that call when it comes to my own movement. But I'm sorry, I'm not going to accept the idea that there is some sort of two-sided, agree-to-disagree conversation going on here! Family Research Council representatives spend every single day launching unbelievable missives at LGBT lives, loves, and psyches. I truly believe that the vast majority of Americans would be astounded if they knew how bad it gets. As defenders of LGBT welfare, it is our duty to show the public what they may not know about groups like FRC. It is our duty to push back—firmly, but fairly.

If we had an organization FRC on our side that was saying the sort of things about evangelical Christians that FRC says about LGBT people, then that  would be a different story. And I would add that I would be the first to condemn such a group! But the fact of that matter is that we don't.have.that.kind.of.group. Human Rights Campaign is not printing brochures that begin by comparing Christian marriages to man-on-horse (complete with horse photo). GLAAD is not launching websites referring to gender-different marriages as "fake" and saying those marriages "destroy lives." PFLAG is not inviting someone like Bryan Fischer to speak at its annual conference. FRC does all of that and more than I could ever put in words!

Look, I HATE having this conversation. My instinct yesterday afternoon was to react with nothing but full-throated support for FRC and its staff and to articulate the concerns that many of us who work in politics feel. These heartfelt concerns should be completely detached from the debate, no matter the things I mentioned above.

…while perspective is needed and nothing compares to the brutality that is gun violence, the facts surrounding the Family's Research Councils' nineteen year mission are rhetorically brutal.

Of course all that is true. That’s why I quoted John Aravosis’s recap of FRC's record at great length. That’s why I titled the post “Fighting Hate with … Violence?” On the flip side, I got some crap about calling them hateful. But calling us pedophiles, saying we're damned, saying we should be arrested—yes, that’s hateful. I won’t use the term “homophobic,” because it’s just as absurd to call them mentally ill for opposing our rights as it was to call us mentally ill for whom we love. I don’t know if I would call them a hate group, suggesting that they are equivalent to neo-Nazis or the KKK—while their rhetoric might be vile, I don’t see them actively organizing violent attacks.

But while I disagree profoundly with their positions, the FRC and the National Organization for Marriage genuinely do believe that LGBT rights will bring about the end of the world as we know it. They truly believe the nonsense and hatred they try to spread about us. I agree with Hooper: We have to oppose them firmly, but fairly. And that's what our groups do.

But of course, behind the scenes, there are LGBT folks who hate them right back, with tremendous rage, whose response to the shooting was this:

@ejgraff @goodasyou Fine grieve for the shooting. But don't pretend he wasn't motivated by REAL harm FRC causes or seeks in LGBT lives.

And

@ejgraff where is outrage about @frcdc Spriggs spewing this “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior"

No, he was not motivated by the harm that FRC causes. We absolutely cannot blame the target in the slightest. The shooter was motivated by his own demons. FRC is not responsible for being attacked by a shooter who, thank God, was too hapless to kill anyone.

The FRC and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) have been trying to establish themselves as martyrs and victims, attacked by rabid gay activists who will stop at nothing to crush religious freedom and spread godless perversion (okay, that last is FRC, not NOM). They’re now, clearly, going to use this attack as evidence that we’re secretly assembling, inciting, and arming loonies to kill them with words and bullets, something like the anti-abortion Army of God. Here’s the key paragraph from Chris Geidner’s report on FRC’s Tony Perkins press conference today:

In a news conference outside the Family Research Council's building addressing the incident and the arrest of the alleged shooter, Floyd Corkins II, Perkins said: "Let me be clear that Floyd Corkins was responsible for firing the shots yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues ... 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 'hate groups' because they disagree with them on public policy."

Of course that’s absurd. Adam Serwer captures the absurdity perfectly:

Anti-gay rights organizations are not often the targets of this kind of violence. The incidence of violence against gays and lesbians in the United States is far higher. According to the FBI's hate crimes statistics, there were 247 incidents of aggravated assault and 495 incidents of simple assault against people on the basis of sexual orientation in 2010. The Bureau counts two incidents of bias-motivated murder/manslaughter in the same year. If labeling the FRC a hate group armed Corkins with a justification for violence, should we be holding groups like the Family Research Center and the National Organization for Marriage responsible for every homophobe who lashes out violently?

I understand Ford’s and Hooper’s concerns that I am agreeing with FRC, or giving them license to make such accusations. I am not. I was saying that all of us—not “each side,” not “LGBT and antigay groups equally,” but all Americans with political concerns of any kind—need to stop dehumanizing each other, stop escalating, stop shouting. I disagree with FRC. I hope they lose every single political battle. But they have the right to breathe and to speak, just as I do. I might disagree to my marrow with what they say, I might pray that my nine-year-old will never hear their accusations, but I defend their right to say it. 

Pam Spaulding weighed in pitch-perfectly yesterday. She had tweeted that “violence can never be condoned,” and got responses like mine. She responded this way, in part:

…That’s where I am now most of the time. So sick of nearly everything seen first through a political lens, that even when it’s clear that for some, their weariness has turned into difficulty seeing human tragedy first, because it feels somehow like it is political capitulation to feel sorry for that security guard and those put in danger by this gunman. If you feel that, it’s time to step away from the keyboard and reconnect with the world around you.

That guard, Leo Johnson went to work on Wednesday, and never expected to end up in the hospital because of the misguided, violent behavior of Floyd Corkins. Yes, he puts his life on the line as part of his job, but Corkins could have unloaded his weapon on anyone there that day. Johnson — the human being — wasn’t the target. We have a subculture of people who are out of control, in desperate need of anger management and basic self-awareness in order to address their frustrations about the political state of things. We’re not talking “crazy” or “lone gunman” either — that’s too easy a reaction to distance these shooters from those of us who wouldn’t think of engaging in this behavior. The fact is these folks live among us, watch TV, surf the Internet and decide that the best course of action to relieve their frustration is to open fire. What are we as a society going to do about it? 

Comments

Hi Ms. Graff,

I hope you anticipated my reading this response of yours, because I am the one who tweeted:

"@ejgraff @goodasyou Fine grieve for the shooting. But don't pretend he wasn't motivated by REAL harm FRC causes or seeks in LGBT lives."

Which you mischaracterized by saying "But of course, behind the scenes, there are LGBT folks who hate them right back, with tremendous rage, whose response to the shooting was this: =My Tweet="

I'm hoping this mischaracterization was not intentional on your part, after-all Twitter is not ideal for fully expressing one self, however I don't think it is appropriate to characterize someone's Tweet in such a way as you did. Particularly as you know the Tweet was not in response to the shooting but in response to you and the appearance that you were advocating that we should shirk from pointing out the legitimate gripes this man presumably had which drove him to take these wrongful AND inexcusable actions.

That is all that I was saying and I'm surprised that you still don't seem to 'get' that. Not once did I claim that this man's actions were legitimate, appropriate, called-for, or excusable. And pointing out legitimate gripes which motivated him to take this inexcusable action, does NOT excuse nor legitimize the action.

The fact of the matter is, people will want to know WHY. Why did this man go into this organization and try to shoot up the place? Are we to say, it doesn't matter, he shouldn't have done it period? Tell me what does that accomplish? OF COURSE he shouldn't have done it! Everybody gets that. Now tell us something useful so that we can understand the things that drive some people over the edge:

What was this man's beef with this organization and are they legitimate gripes or was he getting some sort of false impression of them?

While his response is completely illegitimate, to what degree is the anger he felt toward them legitimate?

(Anger is a built-in part of our humanity, and it can have a legitimate source. Anger is useful to humanity when it leads to constructive action. And our job is to teach people to respond appropriately to their anger, rather than in a destructive manner.)

Asking and answering these questions, is not meant to lend any credibility to his actions. They are meant to help us understand what happened and why. What was the legitimacy of his anger, NOT the legitimacy of his actions. Claiming "oh he was simply unstable, or mentally ill, or evil" is COMPLETELY unhelpful, as is saying it doesn't matter what his motivation was or whether he had legitimate complaints about what this organization does.

Burying our heads in the sand is not going to get us anywhere. And if anyone thinks understanding (and speaking about) a criminals motivations and whether those motivations are legitimate or not, creates an excuse for the criminals actions, then THEY have the problem, not the one who acknowledges that a criminal may have had legitimate complaints even though his response was not legitimate.

I have zero compassion for the FRC. This deranged shooter tried to do with a gun what FRC and NOM have been doing with slander, hate, and cruelty to LGBT for years. Thank God the SPLC didnt back down.

When he goes to trial, America will learn the truth of what these groups do to the human mind and soul. Destruction.

E.J. Graph: No, he was not motivated by the harm that FRC causes.

How on earth do you know what motivated him? Is politically-motivated violence something you've never heard of? In your earlier piece you mentioned Eric Rudolph - do you deny that *he* was motivated by his political views?

I can't begin to imagine why you'd deny out of hand the notion that the shooter was motivated by his political grievances with FRC or that those grievances are legitimate (although his method of expressing them was not).

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