Fighting Hate with ... Violence?

Yesterday, a gunman entered the Washington, D.C. offices of the Family Research Council, a religious group that advocates far-right positions on social issues, and shot a security guard in the arm. Floyd Lee Corkins II, the shooter, reportedly yelled that it wasn't personal; it was about FRC’s policies. (You can see the shooter in this local news report.) The security guard is now in the hospital, in stable condition—thank God—and the FBI has Corkins.

Is this what the state of our public conversation has come to? Unstable people on all sides deciding that someone else’s beliefs must be exterminated, that hateful rhetoric must be answered with execution?

Corkins was a volunteer at the D.C. LGBT community center, where the executive director was shocked by what the young man did. Here’s what he said, according to Chris Geidner over at BuzzFeed:

The suspect in today's shooting, Floyd Corkins II of Virginia, had been volunteering on some weekends at the front desk of The Center, D.C.'s LGBT community center, the center's executive director, David Mariner told BuzzFeed.

"The FBI was just here, and we are cooperating with them fully," Mariner said. "We are shocked and appalled that this happened, and I cannot even imagine —"

He added, "All of our volunteers, they register online, they go through a background check, and then they go through a training."

As soon as I heard about it, I flashed back to two past security-guard shootings linked to politics: the Holocaust Museum security guard who was shot and killed by a white supremacist in 2009, and, nearly two decades ago, the deadly Planned Parenthood shooting in Brookline, Massachusetts, by the mentally ill John Salvi. And of course, I felt the accumulated grief of the Sikh temple and the Aurora shooting. James Fallows’ comment two weeks ago now looks sickeningly prescient:

The mass shooting at the Sikh temple seems even more horrifying than most. Of course victims are just as dead no matter what a killer's motive. But here the "best" case interpretation would be that the gunman was merely one more psychopath who decided to take out his madness by shooting into a mass of innocents -- like those in Aurora or Tucson, at Virginia Tech, and so on -- rather than someone attempting to launch flat-out racial or religious war….
This will happen again.

And:

There will be more of these; we absolutely know it; we also know that we will not change the circumstances that allow such episodes to recur. I am an optimist about most things, but not about this. Everyone around the world understands this reality too. It is the kind of thing that makes them consider America dangerous, and mad.

The best news here is that no one was killed at FRC headquarters. Perhaps it was because Corkins was hapless with guns, or had no semi-automatic weapons; we don’t know yet, although we do know he lived with his family—a military family. The next-best news is that, so far, few people have politicized this. FRC is not blaming crazed homosexuals for inciting this. Twenty-five LGBT groups have already signed onto a statement whose main point is this:

We utterly reject and condemn such violence. We wish for a swift and complete recovery for the victim of this terrible incident.

Some LGBT bloggers are angry with the National Organization for Marriage for denouncing LGBT groups’ rhetoric as potentially inciting this violence. They cite FRC’s truly extreme antigay views, and support the Southern Poverty Law Center’s designation of FRC as a hate group. And it’s true: FRC’s rhetoric and positions are absolutely vile. (Below I’ll quote some of John Aravosis’s recap of their positions.) But how did progressives respond to the shootings at the Sikh temple, the Holocaust Museum, to the record number of threats on President Obama’s life, to any abortion-clinic attack? What about the Atlanta bombings, in which Eric Rudolph bombed a lesbian club, an abortion clinic, and the Olympics, in that order? Here's how: By denouncing not just the individual shooter but also the rhetoric that helped focus and heighten that particular unhinged person’s homicidal impulses.  

For the first time, I'm starting to understand Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity several years ago. Is there any way for us all to dial down the rhetoric, just a bit—pro-gay and anti-gay, progressive and conservative? FRC isn’t actually killing gay people in the streets. The Republican Party has its point of view, even if you disagree with it. I don't like the National Organization for Marriage’s positions and sneaky tactics, but I’m going to talk with Maggie Gallagher on Monday for bloggingheads.tv. (Tune in!) I know that Dan Savage and NOM’s Brian Brown have been scheduled for a dinner at Dan’s home, followed by a moderated debate that will be videotaped and broadcast. Dan invited Brown so Brown could see the particular humanity of Dan’s own family, and to avoid any pro- or anti-gay heckling or hatred that might be aimed at either or both of them by over-fervent activists.

Can we have more of that—dinners, conversations, discussions? No matter how extremely we disagree, we absolutely have to treat each other as human.

That has to come from both sides, including FRC. I’m grieved to say that they might not in fact be responding that way. Zack Ford at ThinkProgress notes that FRC is about to roll out a “religious liberty under fire” campaign; although it looks as if it’s been in the making for awhile, the website went up last night. 

*As promised, herewith some excerpts from John Aravosis’s excellent recap of FRC’s positions on LGBT folk:

FRC's status as a hate group does not change because some nut decided, wrongly, to use violence.  The violence is abhorrent.  It is wrong.  But it's also wrong for conservatives to suggest that the violence somehow changes the fact that the FRC routinely uses false claims to promote the hatred and demonization of gay people.  It's a fact that they do.

Here's what the Southern Poverty Law Center said about why it finally added the FRC to its list of hate groups: 

The Family Research Council (FRC) bills itself as “the leading voice for the family in our nation’s halls of power,” but its real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians. The FRC often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to denigrate LGBT people in its battles against same-sex marriage, hate crimes laws, anti-bullying programs and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“While activists like to claim that pedophilia is a completely distinct orientation from homosexuality, evidence shows a disproportionate overlap between the two. … It is a homosexual problem.”
— FRC President Tony Perkins, FRC website, 2010

You really need to read the rest of the SPLC's report on the Family Research Council. It's an eye-opening list of the various reasons that the FRC was finally listed as a hate group.

Has the FRC decided to no longer endorse the imprisonment of gay people?

Does the FRC still think gay kids know they are "abnormal"?

Does FRC still think homosexuality is destructive to society?

Does the FRC still think gays are pedophiles?

Does the FRC still think gays consider pedophiles "prophets"?

"...one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order." - "Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys," FRC publication, July 1999, http://www.frc.org/misc/bl057.pdfDoes the Family Research Council still think gays are deviants?

"Homosexuals have never been forced to sit in the back of the bus. They are as privileged a group as any. To compare their attempts to affirm deviant sexual conduct to the legitimate discrimination claims of true minorities is a sham," said FRC Director of Cultural Studies Robert H.

Knight - FRC's CultureFacts, July 28, 1999, http://www.frc.org/culture/cu99g4.html

You can read much more of FRC's anti-gay hate here.

And here's a post I did a while back dissecting how brilliantly the FRC uses lies and innuendo to foment the hatred of gay people.

None of that—do we have to say it?—comes even close to excusing violence. Violence is not how we disagree in a democracy.

Comments

The left has really lowered the bar on what constitutes hate and bigotry. Back in the day, you had to actually, you know, hate people, and maybe even oppress them for good measure. Now all you need to do is fail to offer your full-throated support for gay marriage and you’re the moral equivalent of Bull Connor (which party did he belong to again?).

http://senatorjohnblutarsky.blogspot.com/2012/08/bigotry-just-aint-what-it-used-to-be.html

Really, E.J.? Are you really comparing the SPLC's 'hate group' label and run-of-the-mill LGBT-rights protests with the rhetoric of white supremacists and the Christian Identity movement? Have you heard of the Turner Diaries? Can you point me to a book with a similar theme and readership among the LGBT-rights movement?

The KKK is on the SLPC's list of hate groups, and I suspect most of us here wouldn't find that controversial. But most of us don't believe that entitles vigilantes to go hunting down KKK members, and to date I can't recall hearing any news story about that happening.

Calling and individual or organization hateful, rightly or wrongly, is not the same as dehumanizing them, much less advocating violence against them.

The shooting at the FRC headquarters was tragic, and thankfully did not lead to any fatality. At the same time, rhetoric from the FRC directly as well as like-minded individuals and groups has led over the years to countless violence and deaths against gay people (and those thought to be gay, or sympathetic to their rights). If you cannot discern a difference between the messages of the two sides of this issue, or choose to gloss over it for the sake of peace through equivocation, then that is truly sad.

Dialing down the rhetoric on both sides is always a good idea; little is achieved by the current volume. And yet, a sober look at how the SPLC determines what designates a hate group left me, not a fan of the designation at all, convinced that their reasoning was sound. If the designation makes no sense at all, that's one thing, and we could stop calling the KKK and others by that name. But the SPLC has documented very clearly the risk of physical violence to the LBGT community and the part that groups like the FRC play in it by putting out a constant barrage of pseudo-scientific research and off-the-wall publications that are not dissimilar in their attitudes toward LGBT folk from Hitler's toward the Jews in Mein Kampf. We both know this is not an exaggeration, and we also know that the KKK no longer burns crosses in yards or even advocates (on paper) violence in the way it used to. In 2012, it seems to me, the KKK and the FRC have very similar roles -- to promote junk science to stir up hatred toward a minority. Your point that some on the right actually believe this rhetoric is well-taken -- I couldn't agree more. Even so, they are still responsible for the violence this rhetoric engenders. If we decide the term "hate" has no meaning anymore, OK, I can accept that, but Rob Tisinai over at Box Turtle has a question -- what do we call it? How do we distinguish from, say, KKK and FRC publications? FBI reports are clear -- violence against our community is proportionally greater than against any other minority. How do we talk about this in a way that prevents others from using our careful language in a bombastic, idiotic manner? I really don't know.

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