The president of the conservative Family Research Council said the Southern Poverty Law Center gave “license” for Wednesday’s shooting by classifying his organization as a “hate group.”
Tony Perkins said Thursday that Floyd Corkins, the Virginia man accused of shooting security guard Leo Johnson in the arm, was responsible for his own actions at the Christian organization’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, but that the law center — known for tracking groups in the U.S. that it deems hateful — contributed to the atmosphere in which he did so. Corkins, 28, has been charged with assault with attempt to kill and with bringing a firearm across state lines.
“Floyd Corkins was responsible for the wounding of one our colleagues and one of my friends yesterday here at the Family Research Council, but I believe he was given a license by a group such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, who, as you pointed out earlier, labeled us a hate group because we defend the family and we stand for traditional, orthodox Christianity,” Perkins said on Fox News. “It’s time for people to realize what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing with their reckless labeling of organizations who they disagree with.”
Perkins made the same charge later Thursday during a news conference.
Among the Southern Poverty Law Center’s other classified “hate groups” are the Ku Klux Klan, the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panther Party. When it added the Family Research Council to the list in 2010 for its “anti-gay” rhetoric, Perkins blasted the label as a “slanderous attack and attempted character assassination.”
“This has been over two years now and what we have seen is an escalation of that term [“hate group”] used every time some opposes, whether it’s same-sex marriage or some other policy,” Perkins said on Fox. “They [the Southern Poverty Law Center] don’t want a debate, that’s what this is about. It’s about marginalizing and ultimately silencing those they disagree with.”
Perkins said he visited with Johnson late Wednesday after he got out of surgery, and described him as a buildings operations manager who wears a “double hat” as the center’s unarmed security guard. The accused shooter reportedly walked in posing as an intern, told the guard “I don’t like your politics” and then fired his gun. Perkins said Johnson managed to disarm the gunman despite his injuries and hold him until police arrived.
Perkins said on Fox he considers the shooting an act of terrorism.
“Terrorism is designed to intimidate and to drive people back and make them feel fearful. Well, that I believe would describe what they tried to do here yesterday at the Family Research Council and by extension to traditional value supporters, Christians across the nation,” Perkins said. “But I want to tell you it’s not going to work. We’re not going anywhere. We’re more committed today than we were yesterday to defending and advancing faith, family and freedom here in our nation’s capital.”
Following the shooting, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a statement saying there were “unconfirmed reports that the shooting was ideologically motivated.”
“We condemn all acts of violence and are following the story closely,” the statement said.