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:
The reason why the media took more notice of the shooting of Representative Giffords than they took of the receptionist in your article is because Representative Giffords was a congressional representative and the receptionist was a receptionist. This is not a double standard. It is a very clear standard as to what merits newsworthy attention. Shooting a US Congresswoman represents an attack on our entire country and shooting an employee of a conservative extremist organization represents an attack on an extreme point of view by an organization that endorses and supports violence in of themselves. It is an expected outcome that surprises no one who knows what the Family Research Council does.
The Southern Poverty Law Center does track organizations that endorses violence against minorities and have been themselves the target of violence for their efforts to build a peacable country for all our citizens. It is in that context that you should consider what they do. For them to stop paying attention to hate groups and addressing their involvement in hate crimes would be for them to stop having a purpose at all. Similarly the Family Research Council would stop having a purpose if they stopped encouraging attacks on Democrats, homosexuals, religious and ethnic minorities, but that would make this a better country for all of us to live in, not a worse one. If you really wanted all violent acts reported on the same, why have you not reported on the 30 hate crimes that the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed so far this year? Is it because an attack on a conservative organization is more important to you than an attack on a Black organization or church? I think you know the answer to the question.
Rev. Martin Nussbaum
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.