Over the weekend, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins appeared on CBS's Face the Nation. Here's one of the questions that outgoing host Bob Schieffer asked him:
SCHIEFFER: I'm going to start with probably the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and that is Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. And, Mr. Perkins, I'm going to say this to you upfront. You and your group have been so strong in coming out against this-- and against gay marriage that the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded the Family Research Council an anti-gay hate group. We have been inundated by people who say we should not even let you appear because they, in their view, quote, "You don't speak for Christians." Do you think you have taken this too far?
Now a quick refresher on the background between the Family Research Council and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In recent years, the SPLC has been fairly loose in its designation of "hate groups," and has applied the label to groups in ways that are baffling (e.g. Catholics who go to Latin mass). It has also appled the label to groups that are distasteful but perhaps not what one thinks of when they think of "hate groups" (e.g. pick-up artists). One may not like what the Family Research Council stands for, but there is no serious argument that it is a "hate group," let alone an organization that does not represent the views of very significant number of Americans.
That CBS News would lend credence to the accusations of the Southern Poverty Law Center -- a once noble organization that has destroyed its credibility in all sorts of ways in recent years -- is questionable enough. But let's recall this notable episode:
On August 15, 2012, at 10:46 a.m.—one year ago this week—Floyd Lee Corkins entered the lobby of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He was carrying a backpack that contained 15 Chick-fil-A -sandwiches, a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, and 100 rounds of ammunition. Corkins has since pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing for the crimes he proceeded to commit. He’s set to spend decades in a prison cell and fade into obscurity.
But Leo Johnson deserves to be remembered for his heroism that day. The building manager for the Family Research Council was manning the front desk that morning and let Corkins enter the building under the pretense he was a new intern. The video of what happened after that is remarkable.
After Corkins takes a suspiciously long time rummaging through his bag to produce identification, Johnson cannily stands up and walks around the desk to get a closer look at what Corkins is doing. Corkins bolts upright, gun in hand. Without the slightest hesitation, Johnson rushes Corkins, who fires twice. A bullet shatters Johnson’s left forearm. “And I just couldn’t hear anything, my arm just kind of blew back. So at that point I was thinking: ‘I have to get this gun,’ ” Johnson told The Weekly Standard. “That was my sole focus—I have to get this gun—this guy’s gonna kill me and kill everybody here.”
From there, Johnson somehow manages to push Corkins across the lobby and pin him against the wall with his bad arm. “I just started punching him as hard as I could, until I could feel his grip loosen,” recalled Johnson. Eventually he takes the gun from Corkins with his wounded arm. Before long, Corkins is subdued on the ground. Corkins now admits that it was his intention to shoot everyone in the building. There’s no question Johnson saved a lot of lives.
Why did Corkins select the Family Research Council as a target for killing? “A detail sure to reignite the culture wars that erupted around the shooting is the fact that Corkins told FBI agents that he identified the Family Research Council as anti-gay on the Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” wrote the Washington Post during Corkins’s trial. The SPLC defended keeping its map on the website after the attempted shooting spree, even though it had been pilloried many other organizations for far less threatening rhetoric.
To be clear, a large volume of angry calls and tweets from gay activists are not proof that the Family Research Council should be silenced or that it doesn't have a legitimate place in this country's political discourse. Thankfully, CBS News didn't actually bow to pressure and cancel Perkins's appearence on Face the Nation -- but to have him show up then ask him to defend the very legtimacy of his right to speak is appalling. And to reiterate the SPLC's charges that Perkins's organization is a "hate group," when SPLC's irresponsible rhetoric very nearly got people at his organization killed, and without providing any context about the SPLC's own questionable politics or the backstory on how this accusation affected Perkins's organization -- well, that is inexcusably terrible journalism.