In his first public appearances since the shooting at the Family Research Council's office Wednesday, FRC president Tony Perkins blamed the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled FRC a hate group, for giving the shooter a "license" to attack. Perkins spoke first to Fox News and then at a public news conference, in both cases calling out SPLC by name as the group behind what he calls the "reckless rhetoric" that inspired Floyd Corkins to allegedly go to the FRC office with a gun and extra ammunition on Wednesday and shoot a security guard, who tackled him before he could get any further.
The FRC, which says on its website it advocates "faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview," advocates against same-sex marriage and abortion, among other issues. The SPLC says it is an anti-gay hate group whose "real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians," and that it "often makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science." Corkins reportedly felt strongly about gay rights. His parents told the FBI he "has strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner," according to earlier news reports.
With the attention of the nation after Wednesday's shooting, Perkins used his moment in the spotlight to attack SPLC. He told Fox's Megyn Kelly:
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.
Buzzfeed, which covered his news conference, quotes Perkins:
Let me be clear that Floyd Corkins was responsible for firing the shots yesterday that wounded one of our colleagues ... but 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.
An SPLC representative was not available to comment on Perkins' statements for The Atlantic Wire, but the organization released a statement on Wednesday night that said, "There are unconfirmed reports that the shooting was ideologically motivated. We condemn all acts of violence and are following the story closely." We'll update this post once we hear from them.
Update (5:17 p.m. EDT): SPLC released a statement calling Perkins' accusation that it provided "license" for an attack on FRC "outrageous," saying it was perfectly within its rights to criticize FRC's lobbying. You can read the full statement at SPLC, but here's the meaty part:
Perkins’ accusation is outrageous. 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.
Meanwhile, here's Perkins' interview with Kelly on Fox: