A Violent Symbolic Attack
The horrific shooting at the Washington, DC headquarters of the Family Research Council (FRC) that left a hero security guard wounded should initially be analyzed as an apparent example of a hate crime as well as a lone wolf act of domestic terrorism, unless the facts of the continuing investigation determine otherwise. As a nonpartisan research Center devoted to the study of hate and terrorism we are publicly doing so for a variety of compelling reasons.
Floyd Lee Corkins, 28, of Herndon, Virginia reportedly entered the building with a Chick-Fil-A bag and shot the guard after an argument where statements were made regarding the FRC's political positions. Corkins, who apparently acted alone, also volunteered at an LGBT center that condemned the attack and apparently had no connection to the commission of the crime. Both Chick-Fil-A and the FRC have been involved in recent heated public debate about gay marriage. Corkins allegedly said "it's not about you, it's about the policy."
Applying the Definitions
The first step to undertake in an event such as this is to determine in an unbiased manner whether the incident falls under the objective definitions promulgated with regard to hate crime and terrorism, irrespective of how the crimes are eventually charged. There are circumstances where hate crimes and terrorist acts are prosecuted under standard criminal statutes for reasons of prosecutorial efficiency. For example, the killing of Matthew Shepard, the namesake of the current Shepard-Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was vigorously prosecuted under traditional state murder statutes.
In Washington DC, the metropolitan police define hate crime this way, based on District law:
A hate crime is a crime that is committed against a person because of prejudice or bias. Victims of hate crimes are singled out simply because of their perceived race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibility, physical handicap, matriculation, or political affiliation.
The United States Department of Justice on its website " target="_hplink">explains some of the incidents covered by the 2009 Shepard Byrd Hate Crime Prevention Act (18 USC 249 (a) (1)) which, unlike DC Law, does not cover political affiliation:
Subsection (a)(1) criminalizes violent acts (and attempts to commit violent acts undertaken with a dangerous weapon) when those acts occur because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.
The FRC, while a political organization, is one that stakes out conservative positions based on its interpretation of Christian positions, making the attack a possible hate crime based upon religion. As logical as this may seem, proving such a motive as a legal matter might very well be a difficult one to accomplish in court, so the incident may not actually be charged as a hate crime. This, however, should not stifle the condemnation or analysis of the incident as a hate crime. Ironically, the FRC has been one of the most vigorous opponents of hate crime laws, which are on the books at the federal level, as well as in 45 states.
It is also useful to examine the case as a possible example of domestic terrorism as well, owing to the use of violence for political or social objectives. One of the federal definitions of terrorism is:
... the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).
The FBI states that:
Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.
One year ago this month I advised the federal government that the lone wolf extremist, irrespective of ideology, is a significant concern to law enforcement. If we are going to address the problem we must analyze and condemn it no matter which end of the ideological spectrum it comes from. While there have been less violent attacks in recent years from the left than from the far right, each case should be analyzed on its specific characteristics. One of the key characteristics of terrorism that our Center uses is the use of threat or force for political or social purposes in attempt to bypass the institutions and processes of our pluralistic democracy, particularly when directed against a definable subgroup. The limited evidence available still points in that direction, and until the facts establishes otherwise, this brutal act should be analyzed and condemned in that context.
FRC director Tony Perkins contented today at a DC press conference that while the shooter was soley responsible for his actions "reckless rhetoric" from groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center gave the shooter "license." While our Center does not label the FRC a hate group, the FRC does use denigrating falsehoods, among other things to promote their policy positions with respect to gays and lesbians. The SPLC's Mark Potok gives a plausible detailed explanation of the contentions underlying their decision to apply the hate group to the group on their website:
But this afternoon, FRC President Tony Perkins attacked the SPLC, saying it had encouraged and enabled the attack by labeling the FRC a "hate group." The attacker, Floyd Corkins, "was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center," Perkins said. "I believe the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology."
Perkins' accusation is outrageous. The SPLC has listed the FRC as a hate group since 2010 because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people -- not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage. The FRC and its allies on the religious right are saying, in effect, that offering legitimate and fact-based criticism in a democratic society is tantamount to suggesting that the objects of criticism should be the targets of criminal violence.
As the SPLC made clear at the time and in hundreds of subsequent statements and press interviews, we criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins' words, that pedophilia is "a homosexual problem" -- an utter falsehood, as every relevant scientific authority has stated. An FRC official has said he wanted to "export homosexuals from the United States." The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.
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. The FRC routinely pushes out demonizing claims that gay people are child molesters and worse -- claims that are provably false. It should stop the demonization and affirm the dignity of all people.