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. danthefisherman

    Let's just name libs as a hate group. That will cover a lot of bases.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • James PDX


      August 17, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Sifleut

      You obviously don't know the meaning of "Liberal". How about using the internet for knowledge instead of showing people how ignorant you are? It's easy: launch whatever browser you use and type in the address field "www.dictionary.com" and you'll get the answer that I'm certain you'll refuse to believe.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  2. Sifleut

    The difference here is that both may be hate groups, but at least the SPLC states it on their website, whereas the FRC disguises their real feelings behind religion, cowards. There's no accountability anymore it seems. "God may me do it, it was god's will". What a cop out, Religion must go!!

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

    SPLC is a hate organization. They are worse than al Qaeda and should be tried one day for their crimes against the American people.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Sifleut

      Freedom of speech, remember? Moron...

      August 17, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • 0Patrick0

      Worse than al-Quaeda? I think such an over-the-top statement qualifies you as having totally having taken leave of your senses.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  4. eroteme

    Any persons or organizations that criticize Obama and/or left-wing Democerats are consumed with hate. Shame on them!

    August 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • James PDX

      What's a Democerat and what happened to it's other wing?

      August 17, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  5. dave

    of course it unnatural..sticking ur penis up someones as is NOT natural

    August 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • Sifleut

      You're a fine example of a person who chooses the internet for ignorance rather than knowledge. What an ID10T!

      August 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      " of course it unnatural..sticking ur penis up someones as is NOT natural "

      Of course... No True Christian has ever done that with their wives, girlfriends, etc... Never in history, nor now. 😯

      Right ! LOL ! 😀


      August 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • James PDX

      Flying in an airplane is unnatural, so stop it right now.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  6. 2BPDX

    Replace LGBT persons with African-Americans in the FRC's statements of belief and ask yourself if FRC is a hate group or not. Societal norms countenanced such beliefs historically. They don't any more. They shouldn't for LGBT persons now. Eventually, they will not.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  7. Gerald Esposito

    Of course anyone that does not agree with the gay community is labeled as a bigot. SLPC is a joke.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • James PDX

      If you treat a minority poorly and try to deny them equal rights, you are a bigot by any definition. Plain and simple.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • rahul

      if you don't "agree" with the gay community regarding equal rights in the eyes of the law, then yes, you are a bigot.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  8. Pete

    I have gay friends and I even had one of them as a groomsman in my wedding. However, I don't believe that its right. He knows it, but he doesn't approve or certain things that I do. Big deal. I guess that makes me part of a hate group.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • saneCanadian

      No it makes you a crappy friend.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
    • Cameron

      Yes it does

      August 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • saneCanadian

      You see he is disapproving of things you do, not of what you are. Why can't you get that? Your friend deserves better than you.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • danieljsf

      Do you engage in the deliberate dissemination of defamation and lies against gays on a regular basis like the Family Research Council does?

      August 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  9. Odumbo

    The liberal agenda is simple – label anyone who disagrees with them as a bigot or a hate group. They are the real haters and they've come out of the closet to harrass a drive through worker and kill people attending a conference.

    August 17, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • danieljsf

      Another rightwing kettle calling the pot black. The article clearly states the lies spread by the FRC against gays that led to the reason they were labeled. But don't let facts stand in the way of your feigned partisan disgust.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  10. FRC is a hate group OK


    August 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    August 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Sifleut

      Whatever works for you, some of us don't need it.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • James PDX

      No it doesn't. How many people pray for world peace? Where is the world peace? How many people pray for a cure for cancer? Where is the cure for cancer? How many people pray that you'll finally quit posting this nonsense? And yet here you still are.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  12. LOLO Jones

    Guns are a right that Jesus gave to us.even though the concept of firearms probably didnt exist back then lol

    August 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @LOLO Jones

      What happened to ya' in the Olympics ?!?!?!?


      August 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  13. ZoeyJ

    All will be judged by God in the end, no one in mindkind has any say over others.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • therealpeace2all


      " All will be judged by God in the end, no one in mindkind[sic] has any say over others."

      Well, that doesn't exactly help some of the people being judged and persecuted by some of your extreme religious right, making it 'hell' on Earth, ... in the 'here and now.'


      August 17, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • JWT

      Your god certainly has no say in judging me

      August 17, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  14. nottolate

    "The suspect was carrying 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches"

    Sound like another hate crime by a liberal to me.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • James PDX

      Anyone who claims that violence and stupidity is limited to one side is probably violent and stupid.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • danieljsf

      Sounds like a crime by someone with a screw loose, only this time it was someone with a more-liberal (supposedly) point of view. It's usually the right wing nuts who are violent. Surprised their constant barrage of hates and lies hasn't led to more of this kind of response though. They certainly do ask for it with actions and words.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  15. Please Grow Up

    For crying out loud, do something about guns before everybody is shooting everybody else. Hey, here's a suggestion for you gun lovers. Everybody should be mandated to carry. Then if you feel threatened, fire away. If you kill somebody who is armed, well then no harm, no foul. But if you shoot somebody who isn't armed, immediate death penalty. Okay?

    August 17, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • Dave

      As a gun-owner, I totally support this. s the bumper sticker says "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns."

      August 17, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • danieljsf

      Every bullet should cost $10,000.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  16. Hindu

    @davidbeschauer - in that case you better hope that the scientists will solve the problems of disease, old age and death. your ignorant opinion will not change those hard truths of life. but spiritual enlightenment might help ....

    August 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • davidbeschauer

      There is no god. Your own "spiritual enlightenment" is evidently nothing more substantial than an attack of gas.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
    • kch

      @davidbeschauer, you can't convince or teach people with empty head!

      August 17, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  17. kch

    It is time for people of minority communities to get armed, enough to protect themselves and their families.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
  18. cbr

    Just reading about the Family Research Council does explain why people would be angry. What research do they do? Are they looking for information to support their claims? The bottom line is if you send negative information about a group of people who are different you run the risk of being labeled. There is no proof to support their claims against gays and lesbians. Yes, they have a right to believe and promote anything as long as they do not denigrate any other group. The war on religion is not happening. People are allowed to follow their own beliefs. They have the same right but they may not state that other religions or groups are evil.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • Dave

      "...but they may not state that other religions or groups are evil."?? Isn't that what the SPLC has done by labeling the FRC a "hate-group"?

      August 17, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  19. Patrick

    If anyone's unsure as to whether the FRC is a hate group, all they have to do is go to youtube and search "Tony Perkins". Listen and watch.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Southern Poverty Law Center is the real terrorist group. They fan the flame of hatred against those they disagree with.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • James PDX

      Yeah, shame on them for fanning the flame of hatred against haters who want to oppress others.

      August 17, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  20. JohnRJohnson

    The FRC is a bunch of like-minded bigots who have banded together to oppose any legislation which forbids discrimination against people who live and believe differently than they do. It is not out there preaching the gospel of love that Jesus Christ taught, that's for sure.

    August 17, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • Dave

      I think you spelled SPLC wrong. "The SPLC s a bunch of like-minded bigots who have banded together to oppose any legislation..."

      August 17, 2012 at 7:56 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.