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August 23, 2012

Faith, Family, Fraud: Exposing FRC

(Tony Perkins at FRC building. Photo by J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

[Written on August 20]

Watching Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last week brought to mind Rahm Emanuel's notorious statement from November 2008, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." The August 15 shooting of a security guard at FRC's Washington headquarters was more a horrible incident than a crisis, but Perkins and others who specialize in demonizing gay people quickly took advantage of it.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage said, "Today's attack is the clearest sign we've seen that labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end." (For "pro-marriage" read anti-equality.) Perkins called a news conference at which he said that accused shooter Floyd Corkins "was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy." Perkins thanked LGBT groups for their statement condemning the shooting, but asked them "to go a step further and to join us in calling for an end to the reckless rhetoric that I believe led to yesterday's incident." The next day, he blamed President Obama as well.

SPLC senior fellow Mark Potok deplored the violence but added:

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.

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post slammed SPLC for applying the "hate group" label to what he called "a mainstream Christian advocacy group." John Aravosis of AMERICAblog Gay documented FRC's anti-gay lies and asked how Milbank would react if similar lies were spread about him. This point is key. There is more than a policy difference in what amounts to FRC's demand that LGBT people cease to exist.

Tellingly, the fringe element that emerged after the FRC shooting merely offers a less polished version of the same message as Perkins. One video of the Perkins news conference shows a man with a message t-shirt standing among the reporters. He is Minister Leroy Swailes of Maryland, one of the more colorful characters who testified against marriage equality at D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics hearings a few years back. See this video from 2009, in which he rambled incoherently and held up children's books like King & King and Heather Has Two Mommies, calling them "pedophile books." (We can take some comfort in knowing that he read those books with as much care as he read the Bible.)

I myself, after telling a local public radio station that hate crime statistics show LGBT people to be much likelier targets for hate crimes than Christian conservatives, received the following email message from a person calling himself Pat1425: "Your statement broadcast on WAMU radio on Friday August 17 was abhorrent, repugnant and disgusting. You are a bully and an advocate of genocide. Stop demonizing Republicans and people of faith." Pat's reference to genocide recalled my June 2009 column, "Pro-Gay, Pro-Choice," to which he had responded, "Your moral equivocation and your advocacy of genocide undermine your credibility. You are no different than Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot. The only good abortionist is a dead abortionist." That last bit got Pat a visit from the FBI three years ago. You may not be surprised to learn that he was already known to them.

A publicity-hungry anti-gay clergyman sent me an email on August 17 demanding that the gay community denounce the shooting. I wasn't in the mood for his heavy breathing, so I replied, "We already did, you lying opportunist." Although I said this in private, I breached an unwritten protocol. Blurting out the unvarnished truth is not done in Washington. Milbank understands this Power Town etiquette, which is why he calls FRC a policy shop and not a hate group.

Questions about Corkins persist, from his background to what he was planning to do with the fifteen Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his backpack. But Perkins, other than noting that the FBI was investigating the incident as an act of domestic terrorism, was less interested in Corkins than in how to exploit the incident. As we achieve some distance from the violent event, we should insist that responsible reporters look past Perkins's smooth presentation and examine the lengthy record of FRC lies laid out by SPLC and Aravosis. As Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out succinctly puts it: "If the FRC wants to stop being labeled a hate group, it must stop doing and saying hateful things."

We live in a highly diverse society, yet Perkins talks about the Faith, Family, and Freedom in FRC's motto as if they are the sole property of people who agree with him. Someone needs to introduce him to the United States Constitution. He and his colleagues freely spew anti-gay slanders from dawn to dusk, relying on purveyors of junk science like the notorious charlatan Paul Cameron, while crying foul against anyone who dares use his or her own freedom to expose their malicious efforts.

FRC is unrelenting. We must be equally persistent in substituting information for disinformation. According to the FBI, the leading motivations for hate crimes are race, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Perkins knows full well that it is not white Christian churches that are being targeted, but black churches, Islamic mosques and Sikh temples. Neither is it straight kids who are targeted for bullying in schoolyards, but gay kids — kids that Perkins opposes protecting. Look at the latest report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs on hate violence against LGBTQ and HIV- affected Communities. Check out SPLC's number crunching on anti-gay hate crimes. The federal hate crimes law is called the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act for a reason.

If Tony Perkins is concerned about speech that leads to violence, he should look in the mirror. As a helpful guide, he can read SPLC's case against him. Let us be clear: Perkins routinely slanders gay people as child molesters and a threat to society. For SPLC to call him on it does not begin to put them in his category.

We have to fight the hatemongers, not with fists or knives or guns, but the truth. And we have to press the mainstream media to remove their falsifying filter of moral equivalence and report what is actually happening. American freedoms are being threatened not from the left but from the right. If we do not fix our gaze squarely on a problem smacking us in the face, we can hardly expect to arouse and persuade our fellow citizens to confront it.


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