WASHINGTON - A public-relations war has broken out in the wake of the August shooting at the Family Research Council. FRC President Tony Perkins laid blame on alleged shooter Floyd Lee Corkins II, but also argued that groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had given the 28-year-old a "license to shoot an unarmed man" by labeling FRC a "hate group."
SPLC, which equates FRC with groups such as the Ku Klux Klan because of FRC's opposition to same-sex "marriage," immediately called the Perkins claim "outrageous" and denied any culpability in the matter.
On Aug. 15, Corkins allegedly started an altercation in the lobby of FRC's Washington headquarters, shooting Leo Johnson in the arm before Johnson, the building manager, gained control of the weapon and wrestled Corkins to the ground. Law enforcement officials hailed Johnson as a hero for preventing a more deadly situation.
Corkins, a homosexual activist, has been charged with assault with intent to kill. He reportedly had 50 rounds of ammunition in his backpack, and said, "I don't like your politics," during the incident. Authorities found 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in the suspect's backpack. Perkins has been an outspoken supporter of Chick-fil-A, which was recently embroiled in controversy after Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy publicly affirmed traditional marriage.
A group of homosexual activist organizations released a statement condemning the shooting, saying they "utterly reject and condemn such violence." Perkins expressed gratitude for the statement, but asked the groups to join the effort to end "reckless rhetoric." Perkins went on to say he believes "the Southern Poverty Law Center should be held accountable for their reckless use of terminology that is leading to intimidation and what the FBI has termed here as an act of domestic terrorism."
The call for civility in the public debate surrounding marriage came not only from the political right. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted the Human Rights Campaign also calls FRC a "hate group" and said the inflammatory labels should stop: Both the Human Rights Campaign and SPLC, he wrote, "are reckless in labeling as a 'hate group' a policy shop that advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions, on issues from stem cells to euthanasia."
Online rumors were flying in the wake of the FRC shooting, including one that claimed Floyd Lee Corkins II was expelled from a Christian high school after compiling a "teacher hit list." George Hornickel, director of Grace Brethren Christian School in Clinton, Md., said those rumors were unfounded, but confirmed that Corkins graduated from the school in 2002.
"Obviously if there was a hit list he wouldn't have graduated," Hornickel said. "Lee was a pretty normal student."
Hornickel said that during Corkins' time at the school, located 15 miles outside Washington, D.C., the events of 9/11 and the Columbine tragedy were causing heightened awareness of potential threats. He said some students were expelled, but not Corkins.
Hornickel expressed regret over Corkins' recent activities, adding that the school teaches from a biblical worldview with a traditional view of marriage: "We realize we don't reach all our kids, nor do other ministries reach all their kids. All we can do is steer them in the right direction and let the Holy Spirit work on their hearts."