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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. Bribarian

    hate hate blah blah hate

    August 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  2. Bill C

    Only in the CNN liberal world of 2012 could an organization that opposes the slaughter of innocent babies and supports traditional marriage (positions that were mainstream less than half a century ago) be labeled a hate group while a vicious vile spewing person like Michael Moore is acceptable.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • sam

      .....really?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Emperor Vadik, CA

      Do you get the point that blaming a group of people (gays) for hurricanes and the country "going to hell" (in Christian words) is HATEFUL...

      ...Michael Moore pointing out that Bush went to Iraq on false pretenses is NOT hateful, its not even a lie...

      August 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Who me?

      ..So lets all dance back to the 50s..and you despise a man who dares to expose your governments dirty little secrets concerning war,gun violence,problems in health care,corporate greed etc..What a bad,bad man..

      August 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  3. Bribarian

    leftists are breeding their own haters now

    August 17, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  4. me

    The FRC needs to make up their mind. When they provide finances and propaganda to the anti-choice folks ( names and adressess of doctors etc. ) And doctors end up dead, they call foul when people question their involvment or responsibility.I can't stand the hypocracy.

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

      Oh, but they feel it's ok because they have 'traditional values'.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Don......

      Same goes for the liberal media! Spitting hate about the other shootings even trying to link them to the TEA party.......Not much coming from MSNBC about the LGBT suspect. Even this CNN article is about FRC being wrong instead of the evil act of violence that took place!!!!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Craig

      This is for Don.... The "suspect" might be G, B, or maybe even T, but I seriously doubt he is L. Unless he's both T and L, maybe.... Hmmmm. anyway I don't think he can be LGB&T all at once unless he has multiple personalities.... just sayin'...

      August 17, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  5. toydrum

    As a conservative Christian, I can tell you I don't know of a single true conservative or honestly practicing Christian that thinks of FRC as anything but a hate group. They are dishonest, hypocritical and pander to the irrational fears of extremists in the name (but not true practice) of religion. The Southern Poverty Law Center is correct in their characterization of this groups teachings and practices.

    That said, there is no excuse for any individual taking it upon him or herself to shoot someone who disagrees with free speech - even nasty speech and lies. The members of the Family Research Council are appallingly immoral and fail to follow the most basic Christian tenets - "Love one another" and "Love your neighbor as yourself". But they are far from alone in their nastiness and if we declared it acceptable to shoot anyone that engaged in nasty and hateful speech, there would be few people left standing.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @toydrum,

      this moron who attacked the security guard will have his day in court, likely be convicted and face the weight of the justice system.

      I don't see a majority of people here saying that the security guard deserved to be wounded. Based on your own post, the resentment for the FRC expressed here hardly seems unsurprising.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @toydrum

      Excellent !

      Peace...

      August 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Jvance

      Well, done. That sounds like the proper interpretation of WWJD.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • SciGuy

      i suspect that you have a very broad defn of "conservative Christian." i know hundreds of conservative Christians, and not one of them would cosider FRC a hate group.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • qanerd

      You must have a pretty narrow circle of friends..........

      August 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • oddjob2234

      No true Scotsman, brilliant.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Don......

      Conservative Christian here and I disagree with you! LGBT and liberal media are filled with EXTREME hate!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Craig

      Again for Don.... you're right, Don, the "liberal" media is filled with extreme hate – because they report on it, not because they are generating it. They report on folks like the FRC who do the hating, so of course you see it on their channels..... duh!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  6. anna

    Southern Poverty Lew Center are the real haters. They can't tolerate anyone with an idea that contradicts their world view.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • sam

      You just described the FRC. Congrats.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • SciGuy

      you are correct. the SPLC pours venom upon any who dare differ with their vile views.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Name*chris

      Sounds like the republicans....oh i bet they are republicans....Why dk we have to go thru all this again.....blacks now the gays....just let people live their damn lives how they see fit....christians are almost entirely two faced...they preach tolerance in public but spread hate and dischord in private.....any clues too how mmany wars so called god fearing christains have started?More than a couple ill bet

      August 17, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • oddjob2234

      Morris Dees and company are completely intolerant of differing viewpoints. They consider their liberal/progressive stances to be objective truth, and then feel empowered to chastise anyone with the nerve to debate them, labeling them "hate groups."

      Dees is completely shameless.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  7. blake

    Probably the best definition of a hate group is "a group that consistently labels other groups as hate groups". Almost always reveals a high degree of intolerance toward those that don't share their perspective. Sounds like Southern Poverty Law Center may qualify.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
  8. Wade

    All who incited hate by calling it a hate group should go to jail with the shooter. They did not pull the trigger but they did incite the Hate!

    August 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • terra inconito

      dont hate the hater, hate the hate, or I'll hate you.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • Craig

      Actually the FRC incited the hate by trying to oppress the hater by hating on him.... well anyway they are jerks but probably don't deserve to be shot at, just laughed at like usual.....

      August 17, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  9. pb

    I am so deeply concerned by what I read here on these posts. A man is shot and all you people can say is that the FRC is a hate organization?. Who is doing the hating? Are you really saying you support the shooting, because that's what it sounds like to me. I've studied history and the people lurking around posting here act like the nazis promoting hate. It's like you people are the nazis and anyone with a moral code are the jewish people. Stop this foolishness. Want to end up like the nazi's? Where are the CNN moderators to moderate this mess?

    August 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @pb,

      the moron who attacked the security guard will have his day in court, likely be convicted and will be punished for his crime.

      Today we have the FRP upping the ante and creating a divisive culture war discussion around h0mos3xuality – instead of the real issues in this election – jobs and the economy.

      By the way, the ones who behave most like the Nazis are the FRC and the religious right. Call the SPLC left wing if you like, but keep your isms accurate. The Nazis were right-wingers and synthesized religion and nationalism – just like the religious right tries to do.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Sorry – FRC not FRP – oops.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Craig

      Hmmm, really bad analogy. It's the FRC trying to oppress folks, not the folks being oppressed. And so far I haven't seen anyone say they think the idiot should have shot at them, regardless of how evil and mean-spirited their policies may be. It's far better for society for decent people to point out their (the FRC's) hatred and bigotry and keep them alive to put before the world as an example of really mean people..... certainly not Christian in any respect.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  10. terra inconito

    Little is known about that Dobson "prayer" meeting, but I have it on strong authority that the all male group had left an empty carton of condoms behind them in the trash, and their were no female visitors allowed that day.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Randy

      Thank you for the strong evidence Senator Reid!

      August 17, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • qanerd

      Are you sure your handle isn't Non Compos Mentis?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Craig

      LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Probably all too true!!!!!!!!!!!

      August 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • terra inconito

      You are correct, it changes people into sheep.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Don......

      I can here you BAAAAing as you watch MSNBC. You are the sheep.

      August 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Craig

      Once again for Don..... Hey, hunny bunny, if you don't like MSNBC, don't read their web site or watch the NBC news (it's not actually MS anymore, just NBC...). You can just drink your kool-aid instead of baaaa-ing..... OK, sweetie? Oh, and don't forget to rinse the glass when you're through... all that sugar leaves such a gooey mess in the bottom...... thanks, hun....

      August 17, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  12. rob

    Yeah, like if the SPLC didn’t tell us the FRC is a hate organization, we wouldn’t already know it. Perkins is a cretin for using the shooting to attack a respected organization like the SPLC. The Family Research Council is a repulsive, bigoted hate organization. The SPLC is right to call them out on it. The Bible says you reap what you sow. The FRC sows hate, intolerance, and damage to people's lives, and now that's what they're getting back. How long do they think people are going to accept being discriminated against before fighting back? It's just too bad the shooter didn't get that hate-monger Tony Perkins.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • qanerd

      You slay me. You hate Christians and don't believe in the Bible but you quote it. What a laugh

      August 17, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Craig

      Gee, I didn't see anything in his post about hating Christians. You must be reading the inside of your head again instead of the actual post. Disagreeing with a bunch of wackadoos doesn't mean you hate Christians.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  13. Kurt

    As was once said by our leader, this country is like a great ship turning and arching into a new port, cutting through and over waves it slowly had changed course from the past which it has left far behind soon to reap the rewards of what is on the horizon.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • terra inconito

      excuse me while i vomit over the rail

      August 17, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • truth be told

      YOU are the vomit over the rail

      August 17, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Craig

      Progress! The movement away from old, outdated, (and yes, hateful) ways of thinking and doing things and toward newer, better, nicer, and more inclusive ways of thinking and doing things. Making a better world by including everyone as participating, contributing members of society.... gee sounds like the Democratic party platform..... not like those other guys who just want to uphold "tradition" at any cost regardless of who is hurt in the process.....

      August 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  14. DeFace

    Thanks Huckabee!

    August 17, 2012 at 7:18 pm |
  15. frunklin

    Hate group or not, Democrat or Republican. Nothing justifies the taking of a human life for political reasons.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • terra inconito

      What are you, some NRA gun hating zip head?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • Dude Looks Like A Laity

      Your government does it everyday...yet, you stand by hypocitically and watch from the sidelines. Great job.

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

      Not even Bin Laden?? Actually if you are a Christian, then the answer to that is, no, not even Bin Laden's life should be forfeit. How many of these very vocal conservative Christians would have let him live?

      August 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  16. Lynn

    Family Research Council has received over $29 million from the Koch Brothers. That's all I need to know.

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

      Nuff said!

      August 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  17. ORChuck

    "The Southern Poverty Law Center labels it a hate group."

    There's an old saying about pointing your finger at someone else: in doing so, you point three fingers back at yourself. The SPLC boarders, in the opinion of some, on being a hate group themselves because of their own intolerance.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • Who me?

      yes ,they should be more tolerant of the KKK,WBC etc....C'mon,think it through will you.?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Craig

      Yes, but if you just point your whole hand, then it's OK.....

      August 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  18. MrsBoomer

    Family Research Council – what a sham of a name. The only research they conduct is how to hate yet another segment of society.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
  19. Meh

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned Tony Perkins previous support of the KKK.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • qanerd

      Ah Harry Reid checks in at last

      August 17, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
  20. John Vance

    I don't see FRC as a hate group but I'm uncomfortable with any organization that actively attempts to legally foist on others a "morality" based on insular doctrine from a suspect source.

    "I preach my dear friends, you are about to receive on John Barleycorn, nicotine and the temptations of Eve!!"
    Pllbbbttt!

    No thanks, I'll figure this out on my own.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:15 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.