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. terra inconito

    We have the right to carry and conceal our Chick-Fla-Lay sandwichs. The NCSA (National Chicken Sandwich Association) will defend that right, all the way to the slaughter house, if need be; you can take my sandwich only from my hot, pudgy, sticky hands.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  2. lovelance

    Using its own definition, the Southern Poverty Law Center is a hate group because it promotes values that undermine the fabric of our society. This is classic transferral. Accuse your opponent of that which you are guilty yourself. The Left cannot engage in an argument of ideas, but rather try to bully others into submission through demonizing them. Its time that these purveyors of societal deviancy be called out on their hypocracy.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
    • DeFace

      Hate and racism are the fabric of our society? Perhaps in the South......

      August 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • DeFace

      Because Mud Races sounds so Cosmopolitan.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Tom

      Precisely. In the present hyper-charged climate of political correctness, the first person/group to pull out the "hate" word loses. And the SPLC just lost, big-time, as will others who promote intolerance simply because not everybody agrees with their views.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  3. pervert alert

    A qu eer with a gun ! Qu eers the people that gave the world AIDS

    August 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  4. Starbird

    FRC may put on a more civil front but don't be fooled. They've been behind Uganda's "kill the gays" bill from the start. Among other things. They are no different than some of the Southern gentlemen's clubs in the many decades ago that were all about upholding "good communities"–ie. keeping out black. They're a hate group, just with a smiling face and "God Bless" and those empty hollow words, "Hate the sin but love the sinner".

    This doesn't mean that they deserve to be shot up–what the man did was wrong plain and simple. But it does not remove the fact they are a dangerous group.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  5. Christopher Rose

    Angry religious whites hating they are slowly loosing power due to demographics = FRC, Romney, Ryan, Limbaugh, Republicans, etc.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  6. jeffision

    Shame on the FRC and it's supporters here in CNN comments for politicizing the act of a mentally disturbed individual. If this act of violence is a "war on religion" then the Colorado massacre was a war on Hollywood. Of course, either are. They are the acts of mentally ill people. To politicize the acts of mentally ill people for greed and power is vile and ugly...as is FRC.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  7. Plattcop2

    Unbelievable that if you disagree with the politically correct far left "progressives" you are labeled as a hater. The far left always thinks they know what is best for everyone. Individuals are born Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islanders. Being LBGT is a lifestyle choice. I have nothing against the gay community but am sick of seeing advocates for social change from the LGBT community cloaking their arguements in the guise of civil rights.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Starbird

      Religion is a choice too, but most people seem to treat religion as a civil right.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
  8. Dino S.

    Tony Perkins holding the Southern Poverty Law Center accountable for the shooting of the security guard outside the Family Research Council, is like Sarah Palin using the term "blood libel" to describe the criticism she recieved in the wake of Gabriel Giffords shooting last year. Mr. Perkins is making this all about him, using this for political gain and doing his normal fingerpointing. The real victim is obviously the security guard, who probably did his job for low wages, and didn't necessarly share the beliefs of the FRC.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  9. Christopher Rose

    Well quit hating gays and lobbying to deny them rights and you go back to being a conservative religious group lobbying. Problem solved. If you plan to deny a person the same rights as yourself based on a distinguishing characteristic they where born with (such as being gay) then you are a bigot. And should be labeled as such. Economics is a totally debatable category that can be argued and lobbied for. Being born gay, straight, (or in some cases physically with BOTH sets of organs.) black, white, etc etc. is NOT DEBATABLE.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  10. Walter Shmitt

    Dog hates republicans.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  11. Whatabouttruth

    The Southern Poverty Law Center uses hate and fear to raise money. Yes, they are an ugly hate group. Anyone with a brain knows it. They print vicous lies about anyone who disagrees with them..

    August 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  12. John N. Seattle, WA

    Yes, they are a hate group...and guess what? So is the ENTIRE Republican Party! All you need to do to confirm this for yourselves is listen to a single broadcast from the "leader" of the GOP, Rush Limbaugh!

    August 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • zorroprimo


      August 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  13. andrew

    Hateful bigots sitting on Bibles and preaching hatred are BOUND to get slapped back sooner or later. It's not an anti-Christian slap-back, it's a anti-bigot smack-back at political Christians who despise everyone but themselves – a dishonest family value smoke screen and facade that begs violence. What do they expect the ones they publicly condemn to do?

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

      That sounds like hate speech! To prove it just but another group in place of FRC and see how it sounds.

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

    I think a lot of kool-aid drinkers have been duped too long. It's time they got their heads out of the clouds and found out who the REAL haters are. Talking and doing are VERY DIFFERENT!

    August 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  15. Kurt

    What is worth noting about many of these groups is that their definition is only a Christian one, so there are a lot of other groups that they would deny equal rights than just gays.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  16. Aristocles

    If a right-winger had shot at the SPLC, it would be slammed everywhere as terrorism. When a left-winger does it, it's an "isolated incident" in which an "individual who in no way represents the views of the left wing" attacked a "hate group." That sort of self-serving hypocrisy is increasingly typical of the left wing. The shooter worked at a left-wing group before the attack; there is no reason to believe that he was isolated and far removed from the ideological agenda of the left.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • agentxyz

      Why do you believe SPLC a left wing group? Sad. You probably also believe Amnesty International is a left wing group

      August 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • Edgyone

      That is because violent, left wing radicalism is an isolated event. Just look at the statistics. You have to call a spade a spade. Most left wingers just blog their fury...

      August 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      " If a right-winger had shot at the SPLC, it would be slammed everywhere as terrorism. When a left-winger does it, it's an isolated incident in which an "individual who in no way represents the views of the left wing" attacked a "hate group."

      I think most likely due to the fact that left-wing radicals taking out people of other faiths or of different beliefs, etc... is pretty rare in comparison to the 'radical' right wingers.


      August 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  17. Patrick

    If a left winger shot a member of the KKK that wouldn't change the fact that the KKK is a hate group.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Aristocles

      This is an advocacy group and a think tank, not a group of people claiming descent from the old Confederate army of Southern slave-holding secessionists.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Patrick

      It's still a hate group. Just go to youtube, search "Tony Perkins" and listen.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  18. agentxyz

    George Rekers is a founding member of the FRC, Baptist minister, and psychologist condemned ghays and is a profiteer offering "pray the ghay away" therapy. He was photographed in 2010 at an airport returning from Europe after traveling with a male prosti tute Rekers found on the website Rentboy dot com. He said he only hired the man because he needed someone to carry his luggage. Google it if you missed the scandal . It's hilarious.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      thanks for reminding us. I hadn't connected that particular moment of schadenfreude with the Family Research Council.

      These people really are hypocrites. Their h0mophobia knows no bounds.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • cerberus

      What is a ghay?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • agentxyz

      Some words on the regular CNN message boards are banned: such as gay. Other words containing t-i-t (such as prosti tute are banned even on this site. dot com sites are also banned

      August 17, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • agentxyz

      It wouldn't be news or schadenfreude if he wasn't a hypocrite.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  19. Whatabouttruth

    "The FRC opened its doors in 1983, three years after founder James Dobson, now of Focus on the Family" – just to clarify, James Dobson has not been part of Focus for several years.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  20. jeffision

    FRC uses hate and fear to raise money. Yes, they are an ugly hate group. Anyone with a brain knows it. They print vicious lies about gay people.

    August 17, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • dc

      There is a big difference between freedom of speach and a bullet. Liberals are the REAL haters!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      do you think that somehow this moron who wounded a security guard won't get the full weight of the criminal justice system, ... and deserve it?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:07 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.