Shooting sparks controversy over 'hate' designation for conservative group
The scene outside the Family Research Council after Wednesday's shooting.
August 17th, 2012
03:06 PM ET

Shooting sparks controversy over 'hate' designation for conservative group

By Michael Pearson, CNN

(CNN) - It's an online gallery of hate.

Here on the Southern Poverty Law Center website is Blood & Honour, a racist skinhead group with members who killed two homeless people they deemed inferior, according to police. A quick scroll away is the World Church of the Creator, which calls nonwhites "mud races" and preaches "racial holy war" that has, according to authorities, inspired some members to commit violent crimes.

Then there's the Family Research Council.

The SPLC says the conservative Washington policy group is listed as a hate group because "it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda" about lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

The designation, in place since 2010, has ignited a fierce debate after an apparently politically motivated shooting Wednesday at the FRC's Washington offices.

Conservatives see FRC attack as part of broader war

A Virginia man who authorities say harbors "strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner" is accused of shooting the manager of the council headquarters, wounding him in the arm.

The suspect was carrying 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, leading investigators to link the attack to recent comments by the restaurant chain's CEO defending traditional marriage and the Family Research Council's staunch defense of traditional marriage.

While the SPLC defended its label Thursday, saying it was about the "demonization" of gays and a long history of anti-gay activism, the FRC and its conservative allies struck back.

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"I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology," FRC president Tony Perkins said.

In response, SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok said the FRC was looking to make gains from the tragedy.

"Perkins and his allies, seeing an opportunity to score points, are using the attack on their offices to pose a false equivalency between the SPLC's criticisms of the FRC and the FRC's criticisms of LGBT people."

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The FRC, through spokesman P.J. Duffy, declined to comment for this article.

Outside opinions were, predictably, mixed.

Tufts University political science professor Jeffrey Berry said the council is a mainstream, if very conservative, public policy shop - one of a multitude in Washington.

"I'm not comfortable calling them a hate group," he said.

"There's probably some things that have been said by one or two individuals that qualify as hate speech. But overall, it's not seen as a hate group," said Berry, who has written extensively about the influence of ideological and public policy groups in Washington.

Peter Montgomery, a blogger for the liberal think tank People for the American Way, said he backs the SPLC's designation.

"If you ask me, 'Does the FRC promote hatred towards gays and lesbians?' I would say yes it does," he said. "The FRC is not the KKK. But that doesn't also mean they deserve a free ride from being called out on their hateful rhetoric."

The FRC opened its doors in 1983, three years after founder James Dobson, then of Focus on the Family, held a prayer session with eight Christian leaders at a Washington, D.C., hotel, according to the FRC's official history.

"FRC's immediate goal was to counter the credentialed voices arrayed against life and family with equally capable men and women of faith," the group writes in its history.

According to its mission statement, the FRC "champions marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society."

"Properly understood," the mission statement continues, " 'families' are formed only by ties of blood, marriage, or adoption, and 'marriage' is a union of one man and one woman."

According to IRS data, the group received nearly $12 million in revenue in 2009, the latest year for which data is available.

It works on a variety of topics, including anti-abortion policy, traditional marriage, educational choice, religious liberty and family tax policy.

What has raised the SPLC's ire is the Family Research Council's stance on homosexuality. The council calls it "by definition unnatural."

"We oppose the vigorous efforts of homosexual activists to demand that homosexuality be accepted as equivalent to heterosexuality in law, in the media, and in schools," according to the council's website.

"Attempts to join two men or two women in 'marriage' constitute a radical redefinition and falsification of the institution and FRC supports state and federal constitutional amendments to prevent such redefinition by courts or legislatures."

The group says it also supports programs to help people overcome "unwanted" same-sex attractions.

But the SPLC says the group goes further than simply promoting a conservative Christian perspective. It spreads lies in pursuit of its own political agenda restricting the rights of homosexuals, the group argues.

Among other things, the SPLC says the council uses dubious science to convince Americans that gays pose a threat to their way of life, particularly that gays are a threat to children.

In 1999, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an FRC analyst co-wrote a booklet called "Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys."

In the document, which is not available on the FRC website, the authors reportedly argued that "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," according to the SPLC.

The group also was heavily involved in the effort to prevent the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy prohibiting military service by openly gay men and women. Among other things, Perkins said, the change would force the military to pay for sex-change operations.

In 2010, the FRC was widely denounced after blogger Joe My God published documents that appeared to show the FRC provided $25,000 for lobbying efforts to defeat a congressional resolution expressing opposition to a proposed law in Uganda, which called for the imprisonment of gays and lesbians and the death penalty for those accused of spreading disease and other acts of "aggravated homosexuality."

The story was picked up by several news organizations and still appears in Internet denunciations of the group. In a 2010 statement, the FRC said that it did not support the Uganda bill or the death penalty for gays and lesbians.

In a statement published at the time, the group said it only wanted lawmakers to "remove sweeping and inaccurate assertions that homosexual conduct is internationally recognized as a fundamental human right."

Not long after that controversy, the SPLC added the FRC to its list of hate groups.

The FRC has been a "font of anti-gay propaganda throughout its history," the SPLC wrote.

However, unlike many of the groups listed in its "intelligence files," it does not accuse the group of any violent or illegal acts.

At the time of its designation as a hate group by the SPLC, the FRC called the label "slanderous" and "character assassination" in an open letter published in Washington newspapers.

"This is intolerance pure and simple," the ad read. "Elements of the radical Left are trying to shut down informed discussion of policy issues that are being considered by Congress, legislatures and the courts."

After Perkins' comments Thursday, the debate began to take off.

In The Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank noted the controversy.

"I disagree with the Family Research Council's views on gays and lesbians," he wrote Thursday. "But it's absurd to put the group, as the law center does, in the same category as Aryan Nations, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront and the Westboro Baptist Church."

On the conservative website Newsbusters, a commenter posting as "Blonde Gator" said calling an organization a hate group doesn't make it true.

"Just because the FRC has a mission statement which doesn't align with your own agenda, does NOT make them a hate group," Blonde Gator wrote.

Elsewhere, a blogger going by the name of "Senator Blutarsky" said the designation lowered the bar for what constitutes hate.

"The Great Chicken War showed that in 2012, all one need do is subscribe to a conventional understanding of Christian teaching, and boom! You're a bigot," the commenter wrote, referring to the Chick-fil-A controversy.

On the website for "Truth Wins Out," which describes itself as a nonprofit "fighting anti-gay lies and the ex-gay myth," blogger Wayne Bessen wrote that the SPLC was "100% correct" in labeling the council as a hate group.

"As someone who reads Perkins' anti-gay fundraising letters - make no mistake about it - this group loathes LGBT people with a special passion," he wrote.

One commenter on the site said the shooting "was Lady Karma finally come a-calling on the FRC."

"GLBT people have put up with their hatred, beatings, burning, rapes, murder ... for centuries now," said the poster, writing as "Merlyn." "But the second something like this happen we are blamed and groups like the FRC ramp up the volume of their calls to incarcerate us. I'm not saying I approve of what the shooter did, but all things considered, the FRC got off very lightly."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Politics

soundoff (911 Responses)
  1. LTRS

    Why are we supposed to care what Dana Millbank and a fictional blogger think about this issue? Wouldn't it be better to ask real LGBT if the ridiculous assertions that FRC makes against LGBT are hurtful? I have to think that when you publish a fake "research" paper that claims that gay people are pedophiles (which is complete BS) that MIGHT be a little hurtful to somone's REAL life. But hey, if Dana Millbank, WP reporter doesn't think so, I guess it isn't. Oh brother.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  2. The Annoyed Elephant

    The SPLC thinks anyone who doesn't vote Democrat is a hate group member. It's a shame because they used to be a good organization that was focused on actual hate groups like the Klan. Now, they're just a bunch of useless political hacks who are trying to justify a leftist LGBT terrorist's attempt to kill people whose political opinions he didn't agree with.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Christian_GOP_Warrior

      Those demoRATS are just awful, awful, awful. They're not real "murkans". They are subversives, treasonous, and somewhat more rotten than crabbie appleton. Terrible, hateful, and anti-god

      August 17, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  3. Catherine

    The Family Research Council is now coming under the same scrutinizing attacks it used against anyone or organization that was against its agenda. Now that the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization with enough political and financial clout to bring legal proceedings against it is challenging their political rhetoric during this election year, the Family Research Council organizers have finally met its match. This showdown is showing the sick underside of how extremist political views have polarized this country over the past 20 years, and its time for the disinfectant of sunshine to shed light on how political organizations such as Family Research Center have the approval of mainstream Americans to peddle their divisive agenda. Look for the Family Research Council to send more money to its Tea Party, NRA supporters to back Romney during this election.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  4. MIchele

    Southern Poverty Law Center is right. The FRC is a hateful and dangerous gang of wrong-headed wingnuts.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • The Annoyed Elephant

      I like how you accuse a group of being hateful while at the same time calling them names, thus showing that you aren't guilty of hate.

      Wait a minute...

      August 17, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  5. JD

    Southern Poverty Law Center is a hate group. It is dedicated to hating any who disagree with it. You don't see the groups it hates jumping into the media to label everyone else, do you?

    August 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      You/re a hate group. Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Richard Marks

      Excellent comment! SPLC IS a hate group and should just go away. I have grown very tired over the years of reading their hatred against any group with which they disagree and which SLPC labels a "hate group". It is time SPLC was finally denied its credibility as a neutral or unbiased judge of much of anything. It is high time journalists stopped quoting or even reporting on SPLC's opinions.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  6. Rick Rosio

    FRC has proven itself to be an organization that hides behind the Bible in their spreading of hatred. They are anything but Christian and if Jesus came to their office he would throw out the money changers who use the word of God to spread bigotry

    August 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Christian_GOP_Warrior

      The bible is nothing more then a large book of fairy tales. Actually, I find Grimm's fairly tales much more interesting

      August 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  7. elmer

    Where's Farrid Zakariah? the plagiarizing loser from CNN?

    August 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  8. Really????

    So the Haters are upset cause someone Hates them? hahahahaaaaaahahahahahahahah, I almost choked on the irony. You reap what you sow.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • mdwolff

      Which haters SPLC or FRC or both?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  9. Michael

    Yes, and Romney as Romney's PACs condone and endorse this sort of behavior (Mormon Church).

    August 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  10. SugarKube

    The freak who shot up the place was a liberal hater who didn't agree with the Family Counsel.

    This is what happens when hatre is constantly spewed from the three stooges at MSNBC, Michael Moore and David Brock.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  11. elmer

    Where is CNN's coverage of Joe Biden's "back in chains" remarks? Where is it? Huh?

    August 17, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • Michael

      Um, Elmer: the "chains" is a metaphor for corporate servitude – unlike your point of view that would just assume have me killed for being gay. So, try to understand the fundamental difference ok? I know it's difficult for the GOP to comprehend equity.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • marjee123

      Same place Romney's back in shackles remark huh huh huh. I guess that's oK cause a republican said it.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Really????

      It was all over CNN yesterday, where the frack were you at?

      August 17, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Bill Carney

      My Dear elmer .... "Fudd" I presume? CNN extensively covered "Gaffy" Joe's latest foopah as did all the other so-called "liberal" newsgroups, according to your limited perspective. You may have missed all of this news coverage being so absorbed with viewing the "FAUX" channel?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  12. Snow

    It is not hate when someone disagrees with their opinion.. but it IS hate when someone actively takes steps to push an agenda that hurts others.. *hurts* being the key word. You would not hurt someone you love..

    what FRC does hurts people. Their agenda aims to restrict some people's civil rights, just because of their lifestyle. Running awareness ads is one thing, But they actively lobby to change laws of the land to limit civil rights. That is why FRC falls under hate groups.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • marjee123

      You are correct they are a HATE group. but just because a person pushes hate you shouldn't go after them with a gun. We see enough to the hate pushing from the republican right wing spewers. And it is terrible.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • scott

      Just because I think you're wrong about something doesn't mean I hate you. We've lost the ability to debate ideas apart from people. They are not one in the same. Don't people change?

      August 17, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • mdwolff

      So is the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Conference, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and others hate groups because they disagree with you. Who is hurt by people speaking their beliefs in the Bible. Do they hurt your feelings? Do people die because they are not accepted by everyone? If GLADD hurts people with their speech are they part of a hate group? If we don't accept your lifestyle is that hateful? Can you hate others and that be OK? I guess it is no longer about tolerance is it? Or was it ever about tolerance?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • bigdoglv

      "It is not hate when someone disagrees with their opinion.. but it IS hate when someone actively takes steps to push an agenda that hurts others." You mean like, shooting people?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • duh..

      Reading comprahension fail on dog and wolf.. two wrongs don't make right.. FRC is a hate group.. but the guy who did the shooting isnt a saint either.. he is a hater as well.. I don't know how you people missed that..

      "when someone does something that hurts others* was the OP's point.. and unless you can prove that shooting someone for disagreeing with them does not hurt people, the shooter is also a hater.. try taking some reading comprehension classes

      August 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  13. Kevin

    FRC promotes hatred and intolerance. Therefore, they are a "hate" group. No one is saying that they are violent.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • cbc

      SPLC and People for the American Way are hate groups. They hate anyone who does not agree with their agenda.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  14. elmer

    This week, we have Joe Biden telling a mostly black audience Republicans will "put them back in chains", and it's the Republicans that are racist? Their is no more racist group thn those who use racism for their own benefit- that would be the Democrats/Libs

    August 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      Name one act of racism in the entire history of mankind that did not use racism for its own benefit.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  15. LInefeeder

    Unfortunately, you reap what you sow – hate begets hate – I think that's in the Bible, or it should be. This hater came armed with 15 chicken sandwiches and and a gun. Wow! You couldn't make this stuff up.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      Chicken sandwich came home to roost.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  16. zorroprimo

    The SPLC is the left wing version of the John Birch Society. They are a pack of fringe lunatics that would not be taken seriously if a socialist weasel was not sitting in the White House.

    I have no beef with the political left, but the SPLC is screwy left. There are people on the right who are nuts, and on the left you have the same thing. Let's get toward the center so we can deal with business, people.


    August 17, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Darth Cheney

      Your sense of right/left is skewed. The Birchers are no longer extremists – they now represent the mainstream of Republican thought. Moderate Republicans have been completely driven out by the ayatollahs. Fox has achieved its goal with you – mainstreaming right wing extremism while at the same time painting non-extremist liberalism as socialism.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Ben Jordan

      SPLC has been around since 71 and has been taken seriously much longer than Obama has been in office. Your statement it idiotic.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  17. Jeanne021556

    Bravo SPLC. We need to watch out for wolves in sheep clothing. Too many so called 'family value' groups that are nothing but hate.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • zorroprimo

      You are bought and paid for! Now shut up.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  18. Susie

    This has become a common tactic of the left. If they don't like what you say, you are labeled and hater, a racist or in the word of the vice president, you want to put people back in chains. What utter nonsense and I hope that America is waking up to their foolishness.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  19. rplat

    The Southern Poverty Law Center is a left wing racist organization.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  20. Bootyfunk

    FRC promotes bigotry and ignorance from every angle.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Actually, it's you election time PRs that do the job.

      August 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.