When Is Politically Motivated Violence 'Expected'?
The Family Research Council shooting, one year later.
12:55 PM, Aug 15, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Today is the one year anniversary of the Family Research Council shooting, when an armed gunman unhappy with the organization's stance on gay issues entered its building in downtown Washington D.C. with the intent of killing everyone in the building. The gunman shot FRC's security guard, Leo Johnson, who bravely fought and subdued the gunman even after he was wounded. The gunman would later tell the FBI that he selected the Family Research Council as a target because it was listed as a "hate" group on the Southern Poverty Law Center's website.
Not coincidentally, for this week's issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, I interviewed Leo Johnson and have written an article about the media double standards when it comes to politically motivated violence...
So far, the response to the article has been overwhelmingly positive, but a small minority of the reactions have been ... disturbing. And perhaps none as troubling as this email:
It’s first worth clarifying that I never argued that the Family Research Council should have received media attention on par with the Giffords shooting. I did say that it received "comparatively little attention," considering numerous instances in recent years in which the media rushed to assume political motives that didn’t exist; by contrast, the political motivations of the Family Research Council shooter are undeniable. That's a very defensible statement. A year after the shooting, I was the first and only journalist to interview Leo Johnson. That says all you need to know about the media's interest in the case.
Reasonable people can disagree with things that the Family Research Council has done and said over the years—I certainly disagree with the organization in tone and substance on any number of things—but saying that the group does nothing worthwhile and exists solely to lash gay, minority Obama voters to the railroad tracks is absurd. I should also note that the reason I'm highlighting this letter is that the Rev. Nussbaum* isn't your garden variety crank. He's the pastor of two United Church of Christ (UCC) churches in North Dakota. The most famous UCC pastor in America is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, so singling out the Family Research Council as being uniquely divisive or objectionable seems rather judgmental.
My criticism of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is also misrepresented; I specifically credited it for going after racists and violent hate groups. My concern was that shifting the focus onto nonviolent groups that the SPLC objects to on political grounds would debase the more important work it is doing. Just yesterday, a representative from the Southern Poverty Law Center went on television and claimed that the Boston marathon bombers were "right-wing"—a scurrilous and bizarre claim. Such things make it hard to take the SPLC seriously.
So those are the trivial objections, and I don't expect everyone to agree with my views, or honestly represent what I wrote. I am, however, simply appalled that a Christian pastor would describe what happened as "an expected outcome that surprises no one who knows what the Family Research Council does."
To be scrupulously fair, from the context, I'm not entirely sure whether the "expected outcome" Rev. Nussbaum is referring to is the shooting itself or imbalanced media coverage. Either way, it's justifying violence to a greater or lesser degree. And this in a nutshell is why I find the Family Research Council shooting and the context surrounding it so troubling. It's a textbook example of how merely labeling someone intolerant becomes an excuse to actually be intolerant. If we want a better political discourse in this country, to say nothing of discouraging violence, we have to resist this impulse.
*The Rev. Martin Nussbaum is not to be confused with L. Martin Nussbaum, a Colorado lawyer who, as it happens, has done commendable work defending religious freedom.
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